On the last Saturday in June we were off again to visit another South Carolina farm. This time we were on our way to see Watsonia Farms, a USDA Certified Organic Farm, which began in 1918. We were excited to see this lovely fruit and vegetable farm, hear the history of the farm, and learn about their farming practices.
We started out on our journey with partly cloudy skies. Wouldn't you know, no sooner did we set out, it poured buckets. Thankfully, that was very short lived, and as we drove west, the skies cleared and the sun began to shine.
A bit over an hour after our start, we arrived at our destination. There we were met by Lynn Connon, the facility manager/sales and marketing for the Watsonia Farms at the South Carolina State Farmer's Market, and my contact person who had worked tirelessly with me to set up this day. We were greeted under a tent area with picnic tables adjacent to a small store and restaurant featuring some of the farms products on their daily menu, and in resale products available.
Shortly after we arrived, we met Pam Watson, sister to the owners of the farm, who joined us to tell us her family farm history.
" Watsonia Farms is presently owned and operated by brothers Jerry and Joe Watson, and Joe's son, Jeph. We are proud to say that we enjoy the reputation of being forerunners in the industry, using cutting-edge agricultural practices such as trickle irrigation, plastic mulch for vegetable growing, computer technology, IPM (integrated pest management), and consumer product safety programs. We have a strong working relationship with the horticulturists at Clemson University, who use our farm for researching innovative practices as well as varietal test blocks. Watsonia has earned GAP and GHP Food Safety Certifications through USDA and Primus, and also Organic Certification from the Clemson University Department of Plant Industry and USDA National Organic Program. We are currently growing organic yellow and white peaches; yellow, zucchini and winter squash; slicer cucumbers; bell peppers; asparagus; eggplant; slicer and grape tomatoes; sweet potatoes; collards; strawberries; plums; persimmons; nectarines and muscadines.
The first major crop grown on our farm was asparagus, with our grandfather and great-grand-father, Joe H. Watson, serving as the manager of the Monetta Asparagus Association. He led the industry by planting the first asparagus in Monetta, South Carolina - afterwards considered the asparagus capital of the world. Around 1925, he gathered five leading farmers of the area and asked them to plant 60 acres of peaches each. This was the start of the commercial peach industry on the "Ridge" section of South Carolina.
Joe H. Watson died in 1939, and his wife Mary, operated the farm until her son, Jerrold, returned in 1945 after World War II. He successfully operated the farm for over 50 years. Jerrold's older son, Jerrold, Jr. (Jerry), returned in 1973 after graduating from college. Joe H. II returned in 1975 after college, and his son, Joseph III (Jeph), joined the business after college in 2003 to become the fourth generation family member. Since its inception, our farm has become diversified, successfully growing 550 acres of apples, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, pears, plums, nectarines and strawberries. Peaches remain our main crop, with over 900 acres currently in production.
We feel very proud to have maintained a reputation of quality produce and productive business connections through the years, and we look forward to many more years of providing the safest, freshest and tastiest fruits and vegetables we can offer to our customers."
After learning all about the history of the farm, it was time to try some Soft Serve Peach Ice-Cream, shared with us by the farm, learn about the small restaurant where the menu is based on the season and produce availability, and watch some of the trucks coming and going from the packing plant.
They are amazing! All the other produce offered was equally impressive, so much so it was hard to decide where to begin.
We had all agreed to purchase 1/2 bushels of #2 Organic Yellow Peaches. Now #2 simply means they might have a blemish, or nick in the skin, but the price is significantly less than the cost for #1, so when you are buying fruit in bulk consider buying the "less than the best." I really don't know how much better the peaches could be, because the ones I brought home with me are awesome, juicy and delicious.
And so we gathered our peaches, and a few other fresh veggies, and it was time to head out. With hugs all around, and waves good-bye, cars loaded with cases of peaches and fresh produce, we were on our way home.
Now what did I do with all those peaches?
Well I made:
- Peach Marmalade
- Sliced Canned Peaches
- and one I developed especially for Watsonia Farm Peaches ... Peach and Jalapeno Pepper Jelly!
Watsonia Farms at the South Carolina Farmer’s Market
Facility Manager/ Sales and Marketing
214 wholesale Lane
West Columbia, SC 29172
Office # 803-926-0058
Once again I was happy to learn about another family farm in South Carolina, and marvel at the abundance of fresh food products we have right outside our back door. It may be off the beaten path, or down the road apiece, but family farms are literally everywhere in the state, striving to provide you and me with the best product they can.
For me, it's been a wonderful journey, and I am happy to call many of these farmers friend.
Until next time!