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Its that time of year again! Fill up the car with gas, pack a couple of coolers (one with snacks and one with just a bag of ice), buckle in the kids, grab a map and hit the road.
Its farm tour time, people!
Yes, the Carolina Farm Stewards Associations fifth annual Upstate Farm Tour is this weekend. This year there are 20 sustainable farms on the tour, six new ones from last year, spread over an area ranging from Clinton and Spartanburg on the east to Lake Koewee and Lake Hartwell on the west.
Its a tour that my dad and I took last year and that my sister and brother-in-law are thinking about joining us on this time.
Last year, Daddy fell in love with Live Oak Farms, just off of I-26 near Woodruff, where owners Chuck and Allison Schaum specialize in raising heritage breeds of chickens and turkeys, red Devon cattle, San Clemente goats, St. Croix sheep and (what my dad found impressive) Suffolk Punch draft horses. These huge, muscular horses were bred to be plowhorses and the Schaums have been breeding them for a couple of years.
The Schaums also have an impressive collection of antique trolleys, carriages and wagons on display and offer a trolley ride through their 80-acre spread.
Last year, a barn under construction caught Daddys eye: huge, rough-cut timbers had just been raised to support the loft and roof when we first visited. Weve been back a couple of times since to check on the progress and for Daddy to learn more about their plans and usage of solar power to operate some of the buildings.
Having a farm store offering fresh produce from Live Oak and other surrounding farms is a big draw as well. This is where the extra cooler comes in handy sometimes that fresh milk and cheese and meat and fruits and veggies prove to be irresistible.
Another stop on the tour, Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer, lets you get up close to Holsteins. This farm also has a store and is a Dad-favored, return-trip destination. This year, there will be trolley rides and tour of the paddock where you can learn about Happy Cows 12 Aprils grazing program and the milking program, where milk travels only 48 feet from pump to bottle.
Red Fern Farm, near Gray Court, was another of Pops favorites.
It was, I believe, the last farm we visited last year. It was rather warm late in the afternoon and I made multiple trips to fetch herbal snow cones (a lemony basil concoction and, I think, lavender was the other) and a plate or two of the chips and dip and samplings of roasted lamb. Red Fern raises herbs and Tunis sheep and were selling garden plants and herbs and raw and dyed wool from the sheep.
They also had a good-sized solar panel setup which Daddy had to walk over and see.
Split Creek Farm, near Anderson, is a farm that Shari and I accidently came across a few years ago and have been back to a couple of times. You may recognize the name of the goat cheese products if you shop at Rosewood Market.
Split Creek Farm is near Clemson University and the long driveway from the highway to the farms main buildings gives you a cool view of the goats off to the right. Shari and I love the feta cheese and spreads and Daddy cant resist the fudge from Split Creek. There are also soaps and other goats milk products as well as crafts and giftware to be found at their on-site shop.
Id like to see The Happy Berry, a pick-your-own fruit farm near Six Mile, or Baird Family Farm, a vegetable and flower farm near Pickens that is new to the tour this year, and take a wild food walk with one of the hosts. Maybe Buffalo Farms, in Simpsonville, where you can get close enough to feed the bison and learn about the benefits of buffalo meat and the differences between buffalo and cows.
Or see Clemsons Student Organic Farm and maybe pick up a wedge of Clemson bleu cheese. Daddy might prefer Hurricane Creek Farm, near Pelzer, which features state-of-the-art hydroponics, or Early Bird Worm Farm near Hodges. (A disclaimer: During our mid-teen years, Daddy bought the start-up materials for Shari and I to raise earthworms. I think he meant for us to have a money-making opportunity that also let us enjoy a family favorite pastime, fishing. However, teenage girls have an attention span just a millisecond longer than a teenage boy and when youre trying to attract boys at that awkward age, being known as a worm farmer, well. )
There are plenty of farms to choose from on the tour. Taking travel time, time spent getting lost, touring and eating into consideration, Id plan to see no more than three or four in a day. If you look at some of the farms websites, you can make a better decision on which to see as some are open or offer tours year round while others are only open this weekend.
The tour is a great way to spend a weekend learning about where your food comes from, seeing farms of different sizes and specialties, tasting new fresh foods and letting the kids get close to nature. And, its rather inexpensive: $25 per carload, not person, for both Saturday and Sunday.
So pack up the car, van or truck with friends and family (and dont forget the coolers) and maybe Ill see you on the road this weekend.