COLUMBIA, SC — With “oohs” and “ahs,” hundreds of people like Keith Purvis and his family descended on 11 Midlands farms over the weekend to view the edible side of the local plant and animal kingdoms.
“My wife’s family are farmers in Kansas, but it’s wheat and big fields. We’re looking at things here we might want to take back with us when I get out of the Army, everything from how they are doing the animals here to different technologies,” said Purvis, 43, an Army lieutenant colonel stationed at Fort Jackson.
“Of course, our kids are just loving the animals,” he said as his wife, Jennifer, 41, and their five children, ages 2 to 10, walked around City Roots Urban Farm on Sunday, checking out everything from the lettuces to the tilapia fish pond.
“It’s fascinating how much they can put on just several acres of land,” Jennifer Purvis said.
It was the first annual Midlands Farm Tour, a two-day event co-sponsored by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Whole Foods Market.
The Purvises took parts of both Saturday and Sunday to look at farms, seeing Wil-Moore Farms in Lugoff, where Keith and Robin Willoughby raise chickens, rabbits, sheep, cattle, goats and hogs, as well as Paradise Acres Farm in Elgin where their children fed goats, chickens, a peacock, turkey and guinea hens.
They also visited Crooked Cedar Farm in Blythewood, where they were impressed by its landscaping, as well as the Carolina Bay Farms in Hopkins where they admired the layout of the barn and shed.
As the Purvises walked around City Roots, owner Robbie McClam said most of his 2.7 acres — nearly all of which was green with sprouting young vegetables — included lettuces, kale, arugula, radish, carrots and spinach.
“This is an opportunity to let people see where their food is coming from, as well as helping us to market it,” said McClam, whose foods are organically certified, meaning he uses natural fertilizers and no poison pesticides.
“So many people are separated from the food delivery system,” McClam said. “They think it all just comes in a bag.”
People touring the farms over the weekend included a troop of Girl Scouts from the Irmo-Dutch Fork area, inquisitive couples, fathers and sons, students and — like the Purvises — families with children.
Besides seeing largish operations like Doko Farm near Blythewood and compact operations like City Roots, they also visited a two-acre patch of land on the University of South Carolina campus where students like Seth Guest, 22, who graduated last year, help run an organic garden.
“It’s a opportunity for students to learn by doing — it’s an outdoor classroom,” said Guest, who was sitting with Honors College student Laura Heinen, 18, who had a 576-page manual called “The Essential Urban Farmer” on her lap. The garden and a greenhouse, just off Wheat Street, are behind the Green Quad dormitory and just one of five student gardens on campus.
“It’s awesome that we have a student-run gardens,” said Heinen. “It’s also a great stress reliever, to work in a garden. And it’s a really good thing to have local food.”
Some 100 people visited NOMA community garden on Columbia’s River Drive, where they viewed the largest of 19 community gardens in the city. Here, the city leases about 50 6-by-20-foot raised-bed garden plots to folks like master gardener Virginia Bedford and garden educator Ed Brogdon, both on hand Sunday to talk with visitors.
Everyone interviewed agreed the weekend event was surprisingly educational.
“It’s good (local farms on the tour) are doing urban farming like this and getting it to the point where people who have never been to farms can show their kids about chickens and bees and farm practices in general. And it’s a good example for people who want to be involved in some kind of farming,” said Brian O’Cain, a state employee who was visiting City Roots Sunday with his father, Richard O’Cain, 63.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.