Established in 1885 by the Lynn family, Sandy Flat Berry Patch is one of the oldest and longest running farms in the Upstate. In the 1970s, Fred and Sarah expanded what began as a dairy and cattle farm to include strawberries and fresh vegetables. The farm now spans over 120 acres, includes over 175,000 plants, and is run with oversight from their son, John. Ruthanne, their daughter, and Kasie (who you might recognize from our Instagram delivering berries!) also play integral roles in the daily operations of the farm.
Fred and Sarah were at the farm when we first arrived at the farm. We got to hear so many wonderful and entertaining stories of how farming has evolved at Sandy Flat and in the Upstate over the past 100 years. Fred even grew up selling milk and butter door to door in Greenville with his dad in the 1940s! They are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to growing any vegetable or fruit in this area. If you go visit the farm yourself, you can not only pick your own gallons of strawberries, but get to meet the family and pick their brains for gardening tips!
All veggies and fruits that come from the farm are Certified SC Grown. All seedlings either begin in the greenhouses at the farm or have been grown at First Step Farm that they partner with in Western North Carolina. First Step Farm is a substance abuse recovery living center that utilizes work therapy, along with counseling, other therapy services, and education on healthy living and self-sustainability to facilitate recovery. Sandy Flat provides the seeds for this program and in return receives healthy starter plants that represent a cause that reaches beyond sustainability.
John has taken Sandy Flat into a new era of sustainability and eco-awareness. In the early and mid 1900s, using pesticide and herbicides were common practices. Little was known on how these new chemicals affected not only the natural ecosystem of the soil and surrounding areas, but how they affected our bodies after consumption as well. It was enlightening walking around with John and having him explain how very few chemicals are used at Sandy Flat currently. They try to limit the use of any unnatural additions to the soil or plants themselves at all points. As with all berry plants, they are delicate and insects have an affinity for destroying the entire crop. This, along with the harsh weather we had at the beginning of the season, has given most farms a need to spray these plants to ensure that they will have a healthy and profitable crop. Just make sure to wash your berries before eating them!
With the crazy weather and hail that we had in the Upstate this year, a lot of Sandy Flat’s strawberry plants were destroyed and the ones that weren’t, were really weak. They’ve worked hard to nurse these plants back to health and we are so happy that we are able to get berries from them this season. John has created a crop rotation program creates a healthy and nutrient-dense soil into which crops are sewn. Rotation also prevents harmful viruses, bacterias, and weeds from proliferating in the soil. This limits the amount of fertilizer, if any, they use and with the introduction of cover crops (and no hail, fingers crossed) they are hoping to have strawberries and are completely organically grown next year.
Walking around with John, he went through his daily process of smelling soil, inspecting leaves, and testing immature berries to determine what was needed to help them grow. We could have spent all day walking around with him, soaking up his knowledge and passion! He has a secret of how he naturally is able to get Sandy Flat’s berries to be the sweetest around but he won’t even tell his dad, Fred, what it is. We tried to wear him down, but to no avail, we weren’t able to get his secret out of him either!
The two varieties of strawberries that Sandy Flat grows are Albion and Camarosa. The Albion variety are a little more fickle when it comes to being weather dependent, but John loves growing them because when they have the right conditions are great producers of a super sweet berry. The Camarosa is a less fickle, Spring fruit-bearing plant that also produces a really sweet berry. After strawberry season is over, squash will be planted in the berry fields to reuse and reduce the waste that comes with having to cover the strawberry fields with plastic. Fun Fact: The word “Strawberry” comes from the need of having to put straw underneath the plants to keep the berries from coming in contact with the ground and rotting before the invention of plastic!
Sandy Flat also grows many more veggies and fruits in addition to their delicious and beautiful strawberries. We got to tour and see their other fields that include heirloom tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, zucchini, okra, and melons. Keep an eye out for these at SRCG soon! It’s so amazing to support a farm that has been a part of the Upstate community for over a century!