Our May excursion to South Carolina and Georgia was filled with great food and Southern hospitality. We made 13 stops and met some amazing agricultural leaders. Along the way our menu of foods discussed included milk, peaches, broccoli, beef, pecans, lettuce, pork, rabbits, and onions. The chefs on an episode of Chopped would be able to prepare a great meal from that market basket. Three themes stood out to me after reflecting on our visits: 1) Success can be found regardless of the scale of the operation; 2) Advanced technology is being used in all fields of agriculture; and 3) Success can be achieved in new ventures and in those passed from one generation to the next.
We visited several businesses that were enormous in size and scale. Titan Farms located in South Carolina grows more peaches than are produced in the entire state of Georgia. McCorkle Nurseries markets more than 4 million plants annually. Generation Farms is the largest grower, processor, packer, and shipper of sweet onions on the East Coast. The Port of Savannah is the fourth busiest container port in the U.S. We also visited successful farm businesses that were relatively small in scale. Happy Cow Creamery is a dairy that processes milk from their milking herd of 70 Holsteins. White Hills Farm produces lavender and herbs on a 20-acre farm. Comfort Farms produces vegetables and livestock on small acreage, too. All have been successful.
We saw advanced technology at Titan Farms and Generation Farms that is used to evaluate and sort peaches and onions, respectively, based on quality and size. Mark Rodgers at Hillcrest Farms Inc talked about the DeLaval robots being installed on his farm to milk his dairy cows. Vertical Roots is using controlled environment agriculture to grow hydroponic greens. It’s amazing how much technology is being integrated into our farming systems to save labor and improve efficiency.
There was much variation in maturity of farm businesses that we visited – some were brand new and some were multigenerational. Hillcrest Farms Inc, Happy Cow Creamery, and McCorkle Nurseries had been passed down from previous generations and were thriving. We also saw success from first generation farms like White Hills Farm, 920 Cattle Company, Yon Family Farms, and Comfort Farms. These farmers were proud of what they achieved and shared their origin stories which highlighted their passion and determination, which has led to their success.
I want to give a shout out to Jon Jackson at Comfort Farms. Jon is a veteran and a graduate of Advancing Georgia’s Leaders (Georgia’s equivalent of VALOR). Jon founded STAG Vets (Strength to Achieve Success) in 2015. Comfort Foods is a part of that program and is a way to help veterans with PTSD heal by growing food. He is doing amazing work to help those who have served their country and to promote locally grown foods.
As you can see, we covered a lot of ground and learned much during our time in Georgia and South Carolina. I have talked mostly about the farms, but we also had great interaction with folks at the Marine Resources Research Institute and the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. Our friends in South Carolina and Georgia were gracious hosts and truly exemplified Southern Hospitality.