We discovered Saturday evening after a full afternoon of the 9th annual Upstate Farm Tour that my four boys were all farmed out. Luckily Mikus recuperated by Sunday afternoon, otherwise I would have had a lonely second day exploring the farms down around Lake Hartwell. As much as I enjoy solitary time, the farm tour was really more enjoyable with children. Not only do I consider it important for them to know and understand where the food we eat comes from, but visiting working farms is educational and exciting; if it weren’t for all the hours spent in the car on Saturday I would have insisted they all accompany me on Sunday, as there were plenty of unique stops awaiting us that afternoon.
Our first stop was a new stop on the tour, Berry Acres in Anderson. Formerly Hardy Berry Farm, Berry Acres has been producing berries for 30 years. You-pick was closed with all the farm tour traffic and as the season is still young, but we were able to get a taste of the berries with a stop in the farm store after our tour. Being one of the first visitors of the day had its advantages; there were only a few cartons of blueberries available as they have only just started ripening, but we got our share! We also bought a container of giant, luscious blackberries, and not surprisingly both were empty not long after returning home. Berry Acres also have strawberries and honey, although strawberry season is definitely over for the year.
The meal stop on this year’s tour was at Forx Farm. I was intending to stop there anyhow for the artisan gouda cheese, but the availability of Friends Farm & Catering’s food truck sealed the deal. We joined the farm's cheese-making tour with best intentions, but somewhere in the middle of learning about the processes of turning raw milk into curds, whey and eventually cheese we ran out of patience, and following on the heels of a certain three year old I headed out of the cheese room. Forx Farms buys fresh, raw cow milk from nearby Southern Oaks Jersey Farm & Creamery and has the resulting gouda for sale, but they also keep bee hives. We bought some of the Lubsen honey and a thick block of gouda while admiring the beautiful beeswax candles, and then were treated to a view of honey bees turning nectar into honey at the farm’s observation hive.
The Friends Farm & Catering food truck menu was hard to resist, with several “Things” catching my eye including the “Veggie Thing”, “Chicken Thing” and “Fish Thing” in addition to the iced tea sweetened with Upstate honey. However we settled with a “Cheese Thing” made with Forx gouda which we enjoyed under the beautiful large oaks, enjoying the breeze and buzzing bees. Possibly Anderson's first "farm to table" business, Friends Farm & Catering have thirty years of experience under their belts (aprons), and place priority on sustainable, local and safe agricultural practices.
I was excited to visit Split Creek Farm, a goat dairy and cheese maker north of Lake Hartwell. Mikus met the goats but had most fun exploring the grounds, being as there were several interesting tucked-away corners with cool stuff to look at and fun things to spot throughout the garden. We caught a bit of the talk in the milking parlor, but soon stepped out to taste a few of their cheeses. Although we came home with the pesto goat cheese log, the garden garlic goat cheese spread and a bit of homemade fudge, I thought everything I tasted was delicious: the fromage blanc, the marinated feta, the various flavored chevres… Split Creek is also a source for raw milk, crème fraiche, ricotta and yogurt, non-food items including owner Patricia Bell’s folk art and local products from nearby farms such as eggs, honey, grits, corn meal & rice.
With Mikus in a great mood and a quick look at the clock I decided to include Lucky Acres Farm on the day’s itinerary, a bit of a backtrack to Townville. It’s fortunate that we made the side trip to see the alpaca farm as this was our favorite stop on the entire tour! Highlights included petting the gentle creatures as we learned about raising them, meeting a few miniature silky “fainting goats” (and seeing why they are called that!) and taking home some alpaca fleece, fantastically soft and nicknamed by Mikus mākonīša gabals (a piece of a cloud). Despite the heat we remained engaged and interested, and were rewarded with cold lemonade and homemade cookies; the alpacas aren’t the only lucky ones on Lucky Acres Farm!
The next stop along Lake Hartwell was the Seneca Treehouse Project. On my radar for some time due to the sustainability and permaculture principles at the base of this 3-year old community project, we had not been able to visit or participate in any of the learning/building sessions due to distance. However today was the perfect day for a visit as we got the full tour! One of the current owners guided us through the swales composing the gardens and orchard, to the Earthbag Dome – a fantastic example of low-impact construction using readily available materials. He explained the next phase of the project, a water catchment system/swimming pool/fish hatchery before leading us to the poultry pastures and on-site lumber mill. Hands-down the winner of favorite place on the entire two-day tour however, was the treehouse itself. Built into a giant beech with a view over Lake Hartwell, the treehouse is connected to the main house via hanging walkway. Complete with a sleeping loft, writing nook and enough space to hang out, I think Lauris and Mikus would be content to live there for the summer!
I hated to tear Mikus away, but it was time to head towards Greenville to meet the rest of the boys for dinner. As it was on the way, we hazarded one more stop – the Clemson University Student Organic Farm. We made it with only 20 minutes left in the tour, but this also means we had the guides to ourselves. The farm encompasses five acres, which are dedicated to intensive production of seasonal produce, herbs and flowers. With passive solar greenhouses, hydronic heating systems, reflecting fish ponds and rainwater harvesting, the farm is a model of sufficient and sustainable farming. With tour hours coming quickly to a close we asked to fish for minnows; the mosquito-eating fish can be caught with a large net system (and then returned to their home). Our guide then took us into one of the greenhouses to show off the prawn pond, and after catching and inspecting a few freshwater prawns we headed back to the coolers to pick out some peaches and plums to take home. Mikus must have impressed him with his fishing technique (or we gained his compassion by stepping into one of the water gardens and a fire ant mound) because we were allowed to pick enough blueberries for the car ride home – though they only lasted as long as one tired little boy managed to keep his eyes open.