Monday, June 29, 2015

Jāņi in Greenville, the Latvian summer solstice

It’s a good thing Jāņi occurs on one of the longest days of the year, otherwise there wouldn’t be time to get everything done!


First, the gathering of Jāņu zāles, the raw materials for the traditional flower and oak leaf crowns.


The making of the wreaths can be rather tedious, especially when the pinēja has a house full of boys! (Men's wreaths are usually fashioned of oak leaves, and I find them more time consuming to create.) Next, the rain must pass. There is a reason why Latvians have a saying līst kā par Jāņiem (raining as on Jāņi)!


Then, a family portrait (or two), before everyone scatters! (And before those clean linen pants get dirty…)


  
Once all the guests have arrived it’s time for the Jāņu feast! Among the offerings you might find sklandrausis, the traditional dish made of rye dough and filled with potato and carrot puree and seasoned with caraway seed, or smalkmaizītes, the little sandwiches with a variety of toppings. But you definitely will find Jāņu siers, the cheese all the most dedicated saimnieces will tie for the occasion!
Once darkness falls and the bonfire is lit, we burn the vaiņagi from the previous year, along with all of our worries and fears.


We jump over the bonfire, for reasons ranging from health and happiness to protection against mosquitos. The fire illuminates the night until the sun rises the following morning.

The children join us in rotaļas, but as the adults keep singing on into the night they drift in and out between adventures. 


The little legs finally tire, their little stomachs drowsy with food and sweets, and guests reluctantly bid farewell. It is with the approach of dawn that we finally get tucked into our beds, dreaming of Jāņu adventures past and present. Upon waking the next morning we might think it was all a midsummer night’s fairytale, if not for the woodsmoke lingering in our hair and the oak leaf vaiņagi wilting in the sun of another SC summer morning…


Friday, June 26, 2015

Twelve Mile

When one thinks about recreation on public lands here in the Upstate, they are most often thinking of one of more than a dozen State Parks, or the National Forest land that includes the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area in the very northwest corner of South Carolina. However, if you are on one of the many man-made lakes in the Upstate, chances are the lake is managed and patrolled by the South Carolina State Parks, the SC Department of Natural Resources or the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). And although common to find State managed public lands in the area, it is a little more unusual to find USACE managed recreation areas – however that’s exactly what the Twelve Mile Recreation Area is.


After our exploration of the Bob Campbell Geology Museum and the SC Botanical Gardens in Clemson we needed to cool down, and so headed a few minutes up the road to the northernmost tip of Lake Hartwell for a couple of hours spent in the water and the sun. A sandy beach combined with the scenic setting on Hartwell Lake make for a pleasant locale for a summer day full of play.


Lake Hartwell is a man-made lake bordering Georgia and South Carolina on the Savannah, Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers. The Hartwell Project originated with the goals of hydro-power, flood control and navigation. It was only later that recreation, water quality, water supply and fish & wildlife management were added, and today there are nine campgrounds and 15 day-use facilities operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers on Hartwell.


Within Twelve Mile a boat ramp allows for access to the 962 miles of shoreline, and shelters and facilities offer comfortable picnic areas. The beach area has a playground, and there is plenty of shade in the park on those hot summer days.



Eventually Vilis had his fill of sand-eating and I was starting to bake, so we rounded up the boys and headed for home. As far as swimming in man-made lakes goes I find this to be one of the nicest beaches in the Upstate, and the proximity to Clemson makes for an easy stop if in the area (or a day trip if coming from Greenville). Hope you’re enjoying these summer days as much as we are, and I wish you an awesome weekend full of all the stuff that makes summer great!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bob Campbell Geology Museum at Clemson

It was the Bob Campbell Geology Museum that brought us out to Clemson this time (our previous visit having been the 9th annual Upstate Farm Tour and the Clemson University Student Organic Farm). It was a hot and sunny day, the type of weather perfect for the succulents and plants in the Chihuahuan Garden. This high-altitude desert collection contains about 300 species of cactus and other species from Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. Accustomed to the cold temperatures of winters in these deserts, the cacti can survive the winters here in the Upstate.


The garden in the courtyard directly in front of the geology museum is the Lawrence A. Sutherland Family Garden. The Sutherland garden has a diverse planting of trees, shrubs and perennials, in addition to rocks and mineral specimens, mining artifacts and mill stones. Try explaining to a group of 3-6 year olds that the old mining apparatus is not playground equipment, that they cannot add to their rock collection via the crystals and ores found trailside, and that rocks should not be flipped in search of wildlife. Luckily a sand-sifting station (as might be found on an excavation) is located at the door of the museum to busy little hands, and soon we had regrouped and were ready to enter the museum.


What started as a small collection managed by Mrs. Betty Newton of the geology department at Clemson University grew over the years, and thanks to Mr. Robert S. "Bob" Campbell and his wife Betsy, the museum was built in 1998 to house all the gems, minerals, fossils and like that had accumulated over the years.  Home to a remarkable collection of over 10,000 rocks, minerals, fossils, lapidary objects (carvings, gemstones), and artifacts (mining equipment, Native American tools), I could have easily spent hours there; however with the three boys in tow our visit was a bit briefer.

Photo credit to Heidi Johnson

Upon entering we were greeted by the life-sized skeletal replica of the ferocious saber-toothed cat Smilodon that once roamed this state, affectionately nicknamed Clemson’s “oldest tiger.” However the group rather quickly dispersed in all directions to complete the scavenger hunt that had them exploring the samples on various touch tables and searching for certain specimens within the museum.


The Fluorescent Mineral Room has one of the region's largest displays of fluorescent minerals. We stepped inside and closed the door, to the delight of kids and adults alike!


The gemstone collection is impressive, with over 2000 sparkling gemstones to admire and covet. Geodes of every size and color rounded out the display, with a giant amethyst geode weighing 450 pounds impressing even the boys.


The boys each received a small mineral to take home as a souvenir for completing the scavenger hunt, and we descended back through the cactus garden to the picnic tables below for a well-earned snack. The Museum is located within the Clemson Botanical Gardens, and as we had already come all this way we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for more exploration. Heading back towards the entrance we parked once more, passing a few hours traversing the gardens; however, with close to 300 acres to explore, we really haven’t even scraped the surface yet of this superb botanical, historical and educational resource right here in the Upstate – we will be back.


Photo credit to Heidi Johnson

Monday, June 22, 2015

Cooling down at Tyger River

The summer solstice was yesterday at 12:39pm, which means the days will start getting shorter. (It also means this week we’ll be celebrating Jāņi, the Latvian midsummer holiday, but more on that later – if you would like to catch up on the various aspects of this iconic Latvian holiday you can read my post Preparing for Jāņi.) Despite the solstice, we still have quite a bit of summer left here in the Upstate, and the high temperatures mean we are looking for cool activities to pass the time until our next big adventure. Usually this means we head indoors to the Children’s Museum of the Upstate or Upcountry History Museum, to a park with good shade and/or splash pad, or to a waterpark. A few weeks ago we ventured out to a park in Reidville, Tyger River Park, which fits the bill with its fantastic splash pad.


Part of the Spartanburg County Parks Department, this park is a little further from Greenville than we usually venture, a little over 30 minutes. However, it is easy to make it into a day trip as there are plenty of things to do! With 12 baseball fields and a championship stadium the park hosts state level baseball and softball tournaments, so you’ll often find teams practicing or games being played on your visit.


The nine acre play area is at the very center of the complex. We started out in the big kids playgrounds (for ages 5-12), but rotated through the giant sandbox, swings, spider web climber and little kids playground (ages 2-5). At one point the kids started up a game of football with a bunch of other kids in a grassy area, and in doing so discovered the tunnels. Through these giant tunnels visitors are led to a solar panel & interactive sundial area, and a turbine & wind chime play area. With educational signage, benches and landscaping these feel like separate parks, but you’re only a tunnel away from more places to explore!


In the center of the playground is a 60ft tower that is open when parks personnel are supervising, presumably on weekends? We didn’t get a chance to climb that, however we took advantage of the concessions stand being open to grab lunch. I had brought with food but as is often the case with three growing boys they ate everything on the car ride over.


Thankfully there were clouds in the sky most of the morning, and it wasn’t until after noon that the sun came out and started roasting us. What choice did we have but to head to the splash zone! Conveniently fenced with a non-slip surface, four different play zones aimed at different ages and benches for moms, this was a great spot to cool down and get that last energy out before heading home.


Tyger River also has shelters for rent, however picnic tables and restroom facilities are available for day use. For the concessions menu click here. My previous post on this park can be seen here.




Friday, June 19, 2015

Eglītes - the new man bun

So I didn’t know what a man bun was. And then my mother came to visit and of course I ended up googling it, and it’s a thing (although if you can trust the Detroit Free Press it’s a ‘do women hate). It’s also probably over, since I only find out about things once they’re passé.

Of course the circumstances that brought us to the man bun conversation are relevant; we’ve invented a word. Well, actually it is a new use for an old word, but it’s now being used on a regular basis at our house and I think will hit mainstream conversation soon.

eglīte -es, dsk. ģen. -šu, s.
vīrietim ‘zirgaste’, veidota galvas pašā centrā

The Latvian word for “little spruce” now also refers to a men’s ponytail, preferably on the top of his head. Originating as a way to keep Vilis's locks out of his face in the heat until his mother works up the courage to give him his first haircut, most popular with Mikus, often prompting smiles from even the most serious adult.



Of course there’s also the ponytail beard. Thanks dad! 

In order to not end on a note of facial hair, here’s a video showing the traditional Latvian folk costumes in a whole new light. “Katram savu tautas tērpu. Latvia Suits You. Dienrāža 2016 fotosesija.” Happy Friday!



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A walk on the wild side in Congaree NP

Only 120,000 visitors visit Congaree National Park annually, as compared to the more than 9 million Great Smoky Mountains National Park gets in a year. As if we needed another reason to visit this ancient forest full of native hardwood trees, home to “champion trees,” the largest known survivors of their species. Our previous visit coincided with a serious downpour, during which we explored the Visitors Center and not much else. This trip (following right on the heels of our two days in Dreher Island State Park) saw sunny, though hot weather, but we still debated postponing our visit before even leaving the car – the black flies in the parking lot were intimidating (although thankfully mostly contained to the entrance and visitor center area)!


Congaree envelops the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the US, the 26,546-acre National Park escaping being logged like much of the surrounding area due to intermittent flooding. Historically, over one million acres in South Carolina were covered with floodplain forest, but in less than 50 years they were logged and cleared, the surviving remnants drowned by reservoirs. After a campaign by the Sierra Club and local activists, Congaree Swamp National Monument was established in 1976 protecting the forest, although it was 2003 before it was renamed a National Park.


The best way to see the enormous forest, 57% of which is designated wilderness area, is by kayak or canoe. We were on foot, and therefore opted for the self-guided boardwalk tour beginning at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. From chatting with other visitors we were disappointed to learn that the elevated boardwalk section between Weston Lake and Sims Trail was closed due to storm damage, and although this slightly extended the length of our planned hiking loop from 2.4 to 2.7 miles it was still an impressive tour.


The informational booklets provided at the visitor center are extensive and varied. The kids enjoyed searching for trees, animals and other things listed on the Kids in Parks Congaree Scavenger Hunt Track Trail, while the adults learned a few new things from the guided boardwalk tour; the brochure provides interesting factoids corresponding to numbered placards dotting the trail (which the boys exuberantly spotted and tracked, making sure we didn’t accidentally pass one up). For example, #11 involved a former state champion tree, a 150 foot tall loblolly pine. Nearby was another loblolly (#10) that could have been 200 years old; it fell during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. And somewhere is a loblolly (can be seen on the “Big Tree Hike”) that measures 170 feet tall and 15 feet in circumference, one of the park’s champions.


In comparison there is a bald cypress in the park over 27 feet in circumference, the wide margin due to the buttressed base. We learned about cypress knees, switch cane, water tupelos and the area’s rich soil, not much escaping our notice including snakes, lizards, turtles and interesting insects. On the last portion of the loop we even flushed a deer, the white tail quickly disappearing from view into the dense vegetation.°


At the far end of the loop we found the elevated viewing platform for Weston Lake. Once a bend in the Congaree River, Weston Lake is now an oxbow lake. Although it is slowly filling in with clay and organic debris, the lake is home to freshwater turtles such as the yellow-bellied slider and common snapping turtle, as well as catfish, bass and alligator gar.


A system of hiking trails fan out from this end of the boardwalk, for those visitors looking for a more intensive glimpse into the Congaree forest. With names like “Kingsnake Trail” I was sorely tempted, but we were content with retracing our steps to the Sims Trail and taking that back north in lieu of the low boardwalk.

Can you spot the alligator gar?

With a dozen different walks and tours available including the Big Tree Hike, Guided Canoe Tours and night hikes, there are plenty of ways to immerse yourself in this primitive world while learning all about the floodplain ecosystem. We emerged back at the Visitor Center tired and sweaty, but despite the battle with the black flies en route back to the car it was a wildly popular hike with kids and adults alike. It’s really just a matter of time until we return for another exploration of Congaree – maybe this time by boat?


Monday, June 15, 2015

Dreher Island SP

There is a treasure trove of state parks in South Carolina, as many as 15 out of the 47 in the Upstate (depending on where you draw the line between the Upstate and Midland SC). We’re far from having visited them all, but slowly we’re checking them off one by one, discovering the unique features which led to them being declared state treasures. Not only does each State Park host unique topography and therefore flora and fauna, but the parks also widely differ in what they have to offer to the public. Our most recent state park visit was to Dreher Island State Park and included a two night stay in one of the lakefront villas.


Only 30 minutes from Columbia, Dreher Island SP actually covers three islands for a total of 348 acres and 12 miles of shoreline. Although there are a multitude of camping spots located along Lake Murray, we opted to rent one of the five villas facing south over the water, providing a fabulous view of the sunrise and sunset. Upon our arrival Friday we were immediately drawn to the water, where a miniature beach allowed the boys lake access. While they splashed the adults unpacked, and utilizing the grill and picnic tables prepared dinner. The ravenous kids ate and were soon back by the water, with first the sunset, then the campfire reflecting on their faces.


After a restful night’s sleep we ate breakfast and set off on our first adventure. There are over 25 geocaches within park boundaries, some of which are on smaller islands and the majority near the shoreline, perfect for canoeists and kayakers. We had already checked off one before heading further into the forest, in search of a second located on the tip of the Villa Lane peninsula. Walking through the woods is very pleasant, with little to no underbrush owing to the mature oak/hickory canopy. As we explored, we hugged the shore finding treasure after treasure: the geocache we had set off in search of, egg shells (probably turtle), a turtle shell and all sorts of footprints, seeds and insects.


With the boys perfectly content to return to their mini-beach for more splashing, I hit the Little Gap Trail, the longer of the two nature trails in the park. Although the ¼ mile Billy Dreher Nature Trail would have been more appropriate for the entire family, I chose the 2.1-mile hike leading out to “Little Gap”, named for the proximity to mainland at the tip of the peninsula. I strolled north through more beautiful hardwoods, with frequent views of the lake as well as abundant wildlife. Although there were other hikers using the trail, I saw at least a half-dozen deer in addition to multiple great blue herons, red-headed woodpeckers and an assortment of smaller mammals. In search of yet another geocache I found the remains of an old homesite, two chimneys still standing to attest to the family that once lived there.


For those looking to fish, with a SC fishing license you can fish for largemouth bass and stripers, catfish, bream, crappie and yellow perch. The island is a popular location and launching spot for national fishing tournaments, but luckily all was calm on our visit even with the “Paddle Bender” canoe, kayak and SUP race one morning. Once the speedboats and fisherman emerged to recreate, the quiet was punctuated with the sounds of motors and people having fun, but somehow it didn’t bother us. I’m sure we added our own cacophony at times, especially when we visited the kid’s playground and found the alligator gar skeleton!



On our last morning on Dreher Island we packed up, but pulled into the State Park loop for one last swim before crossing the bridge back to mainland. Two ospreys circled overhead for a while before perching on snags, their nest nearby. A family was decorating the picnic shelter to celebrate a graduation, and a pontoon boat was anchored in a little cove, the family enjoying the sun. It was a perfect summer weekend made even more enjoyable by good company, and I’m looking forward to our next SC state park adventure – hopefully in the near future!


Friday, June 12, 2015

Rainbow Falls

When looking to escape the hot, muggy summer days in Greenville we head for hikes up in the foothills. At just under an hour away, Table Rock and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area offer countless trails with everything from scenic vistas to waterfalls and swimming holes for those looking for a day’s excursion. Jones Gap State Park on the easternmost edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment is relatively underappreciated when compared to the other 7 State Parks hugging the North Carolina border, both due to the limited number of visitors allowed per day as well as the lure of attractions in neighboring parks such as the Caesars Head overlooks and Raven Cliff Falls. However, there is no shortage of fantastic hikes within Jones Gap, for families and more serious hikers alike.


I previously wrote about the Jones Gap Falls hike, which is around a 3 mile hike on the Jones Gap Trail more suited for our family of five (including the two with much shorter legs). After a stressful week with the three boys during which Roberts was out of town (thank goodness my mother was visiting!) I gave myself the day off; this is how it came to be that I was leaving the house solo for a morning hike to Rainbow Falls with a good friend, a rather strenuous 5 mile round trip hike I would not attempt with the entire entourage.


On weekends and holidays it is wise to get an early start if you’re headed to Jones Gap, as when the parking lot fills up the rangers close the park, letting in a car only when another leaves. Getting there in advance of the crowds might also make your time spent on the trail more enjoyable, if you like the whole “peace and quiet in the woods” thing. For me it was more the “no whining/lack of child on back” type of enjoyment, as I was only carrying supplies for myself; still, after departing from the parking lot we didn’t see another hiker until nearly at our destination.


To reach Rainbow Falls we parked in the main parking lot (closest to the Learning Center) and took Jones Gap Trail ¾ of a mile in to reach the Rainbow Falls trail. From there we turned north and followed the red blazes, crossing Cox Camp Creek several times as the trail wound north. From the intersection with Jones Gap Trail it is 1.6 miles to the waterfall, most of which is a rather steep climb up the ridge. About 2/3 of the way up, the trail cuts to the creek one last time; there the water flows over a giant boulder, the sliding rock a perfect spot for a few minutes reflection (or catching your breath!) before the arduous hike uphill.


Upon coming to an almost-vertical rock face the trail veers sharply to the west, bringing you back towards the creek. These are the Cleveland Cliffs, almost 200 feet tall at points. The stairs carved into the rock helped with the ascent. 


And before we knew it we were there, the sound of the waterfall reaching us at the same time as the sight of the 100ft falls. A series of smaller cascades at the bottom offer plenty of large boulders for a picnic, or maybe just admiration of the natural beauty surrounding you.


Formerly Rainbow Falls were only accessible by a trail from Camp Greenville at the NC/SC border, the same area we visited not long ago to see Pretty Place. If you can believe it, the new trail (constructed in 2008) from Jones Gap State Park offers an easier hike, despite the 1200 foot change in elevation.The waterfall is located on YMCA Camp Greenville property.


Because of our early morning departure we had the falls almost to ourselves; it was on our descent that we started meeting a multitude of other hikers. It's also on the return trip that we could really enjoy the views, especially that of Little Pinnacle Mountain. The hike down passed quickly, and soon after emerging on the Middle Saluda we were already back at the trailhead – this definitely didn’t feel like a 5 mile hike, possibly because I had such good company?

The Jones Gap Learning Center near the Jones Gap Trail trailhead

It might be some time before we return to Jones Gap as all the other trails I would like to hike are not suitable for our five and three year olds. However several of the Jones Gap trails are on my Upstate to-hike list (including Rim of the Gap Trail connecting JG with Caesars Head) so hopefully it’s not too long until I make my way back up to this corner of the Upstate. Thank you to my lovely friend for the company and the ride - let's do it again sometime!


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Upstate Farm Tour part 2: farmed out!

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.

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