Tilly screwed up her face in disbelief.
“No way, Mom,” she said.
“I wouldn’t kid you,” I responded to my six-year-old daughter. “I promise that the sweet potato there on your dinner plate was grown in the dirt and that a farmer harvested it.”
Tilly took a long look at the steaming potato on her plate. “Down under the ground? Hmm,” she said, giving her potato a nudge with her fork. I asked where she thought it came from, and she responded, “I never really thought about it.”
As Tilly took a bite, I couldn’t help but feel a little troubled. Were kids today really this disconnected from the land? Had modern living destroyed our appreciation for farming? It seemed my child knew more about the internet than Food 101.
“I’ve got an idea,” I said to Tilly. “What if you, Dad, and I visited a few farms? It’s summer. Let’s have some fun outside this weekend.”
Learning from the earth
The next morning, the three of us drove to a nearby farm that was participating in the South Carolina Ag + Art Tour. The self-guided tour is held every Saturday and Sunday each June in the Olde English District and two other counties in the state. It allows “city folks” of all ages to see firsthand where their food comes from by touring participating farms and learning about rural life.
A quick online search as we drove to our first stop revealed that the event had grown to include nine South Carolina counties rich in the farming tradition. The tour is now the largest event of its kind in the nation. This year’s lineup included self-guided tours of everything from a tree farm to a Zen-inspired botanical garden to a cidery.
Best of all, painters, potters, musicians, and other craftsmen participate, guaranteeing something new each year and unique buys.
As we pulled up to Olivia’s Way Gardening in Union, Tilly was already bouncing in her seat with excitement.
“Look, Mom and Dad! Chickens!”
Soon, we were getting a lesson on how to set up a chicken coop, and Tilly got her first chance to pet a hen. We followed the lesson with tours of earthy fields where tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and other vegetables peeked out from under green leaves.
“Are the potatoes under the ground?” Tilly asked as she studied a strawberry ripening on its plant.
The farmer nodded and chuckled as Tilly popped the strawberry in her mouth.
Next, we were on to Windy Hill Orchard in York, where the three of us danced to live bluegrass music.
My husband grabbed a spot at a picnic table and enjoyed one of the farm’s hard ciders made on site.
Tilly and I soon joined him with fresh donuts that are also made at the orchard’s bakery. And I bought a fried apple pie to take home.
A couple of the orchard’s residents—pigs that roam free—stopped by to make sure we hadn’t dropped any crumbs on the ground.
“I’ve never been this close to a pig,” Tilly said with delight.
After that, we called it a day and headed home.
As we scrubbed the dirt from under our nails and sat down for supper that night, the food tasted different, in a good way.
The honey on our biscuits took on significance after watching worker bees tend to a hive at one farm.
The blackberries seemed impossibly fresh, realizing that human hands had carefully picked each one, making sure not to bruise them.
Even the flavors of rosemary and other herbs in the meat seemed to pop after walking through fragrant herb gardens.
Imbibing and thriving
The next morning, Tilly was up early and ready to continue our adventure. She was most excited to see more farm animals. My husband and I were in the mood to relax and enjoy a couple of adult beverages. We found the perfect compromise at Benford Brewing Company in Lancaster.
As the two of us sampled craft brews, Tilly enjoyed pasture views of cows and horses.
I’d never before experienced a brewery in a farm setting. It sounds a little weird, but it was the most picturesque part of our trip. We strolled down wooded walking paths and ended our visit with a tour of the Historic Craig House, built in the 1800s.
Like so many of the farms we had already visited, this one had been kept in the same family for generations. In fact, family member David Rowe was on hand, performing a mountain dulcimer concert for visitors.
As we wandered out back to enjoy the home’s formal gardens and landscaped grounds, I posed a question to Tilly.
“So do you believe me now? That potatoes grow in the dirt?” I asked.
She nodded thoughtfully.
“Yep. Lots of food does,” she answered. “But how do they get the chickens to grow in the dirt?”
My husband and I laughed. We may need to make a return trip.