A successful location for agricultural businesses

Barbara Miller Contributing Columnist

My mind is searching for a business topic to discuss, but I am side-tracked by the thought of summer picnics with all that home-cooked food and the fun of summer ahead.

Newberry County has always been a successful location for agricultural businesses, from the growing of crops like hay and soybeans in sprawling fields of gold and green, to the regimental rows of standing timber to the national industrial processors of eggs and poultry and turkey products. Our county was once known as The egg and dairy capital. For our newcomers, that explains the shape of the water tower on Highway-34 just past the Interstate.

But Newberry County has also been home to small farmers of all kinds. Many of you grew up here, perhaps on family farms, or had relatives you spent summers with, whiling away hot afternoons on the back porch stringing beans and shucking corn to be canned and savored come winter. Alas, the summer of 2020 may not be quite like ones in recent years, but it can still be fun. So let’s think about local farm-grown food and local fun and how to make the best of our time. For now, remember to take along a mask in case the farmer wants you to wear one. Respect the farm-stand rules.

One of my personal favorite farm-and-food things to do was to pile some city-folk friends in the car and drive out to the Vend-A-Moo for chocolate milk. Now that was country fun! For newcomers to Newberry, the Vend-A-Moo was exactly that – a vending machine that dispensed gallon jugs of milk for three bucks and “mooed” as the jugs clunked down the chute. You knew the milk was local because the machine was located in front of the farm with cows and the milking parlor in view. And depending on the wind direction — well, never mind. Best chocolate milk ever as we passed the jug right there in the parking lot.

A ride in the country is good for the soul, does not violate any social distancing rules, and is brightened by a stop or two or several at roadside stands. Local farmers set up tents and tables on the front lawn and sell their juicy tomatoes and heads of cabbage and probably a million zucchini squash, not to mention onions and eggplant and home-baked pound cakes. This year especially, look for them and support them.

If you need to be more active, our county has places where you can pick your own berries or walk around the farm and gawk at animals which could be as familiar as cows or as exotic as alpacas. If you’d rather stay cool, you can order online and pick up fresh eggs, produce, jams and jellies, breads and more. The farmer will place the order in your car and you’ll be assured of freshness and safety, plus there’s the added mental-health benefit of that scenic drive out in the country. Go early, cut the AC off, roll the windows down – feel the breeze ruffling your hair.

Not all of your food-shopping need be for fresh produce. There are more options for frozen meat than you would believe, including an entire half a cow, and not just any cow, but a locally born, locally raised Angus. If beef is not your choice, there is a farmer who also offers pork cuts and pork sausage from hogs raised in local pastures and chicken sausages in many flavors from chickens that also live outdoors.

Finding farmers is pretty easy if you are familiar with Facebook. Most of them have a FB business page with all the information you need about their hours, their products and their services. You could ask around at church or the local pharmacy or hardware store — most of these farmers enjoy great word-of-mouth popularity. Call the Chamber of Commerce, farmers are business people and many are Chamber members.

Or you could just plan a Saturday morning drive out in the country. Make some sandwiches, grab a roll of paper towels and a knife, fill a cooler with soft drinks or a jug of lemonade, grab the kids, throw a quilt in the car and head out. Look for stuff — like a white horse or a green car, and give a prize to the kid who sees it first. Count tractors or those big rolls of hay. And keep your eyes open for farm-stands. Pull off and buy something. Ask if you can spread out the blanket and slice that juicy tomato or fragrant peach. Take pictures of particularly beautiful produce for your FB page – there is nothing more photogenic than some shiny garden bounty. Let the kids pick out something they want to cook and eat, and show them how to cook it when you get home. And, sometimes, if you are really lucky, you will come upon a crossroads where some guy has parked his pick-up truck and a huge kettle and is selling fresh-boiled peanuts. Shop local, eat local, stay healthy.

Barbara Miller is the Business Consultant for the South Carolina Small Business Development Center in Newberry. She can be reached at Barbara.Miller@newberry.edu.