Portrait of a Small Farmer: Williamsburg County’s German Glasscho
by Amy O. Maxwell
German Glasscho comes across as a soft-spoken man in the first few moments of meeting him. At first glance, he may even appear shy. But, ask him about his small farm and his eyes light up with enthusiasm. Farming is an important part of his life, and he’ll tell you it’s in his blood. Glasscho, a Williamsburg County native, is a small farmer in the community of Sandy Bay, nestled in the quiet town of Cades, South Carolina. He is passionate about farming, and a visit to his 20-acre truck crop operation illustrates his dedication to conservation. He speaks eloquently about his life-long career as a farmer, and boasts like a proud father on the health of his produce which includes potatoes, watermelons, tomatoes, cantaloupe, okra, butter beans, peas, cucumbers, and other small crops.
A participant in the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Small Farmer Initiative, Glasscho installed a well for irrigation. Funds from the initiative also helped him diversify his farm with grass plantings and installation of a fence for goats. The Small Farmer Initiative (SFI) was created to increase participation by small scale and limited resource farmers in USDA programs. “This effort will help us better serve small farmers who may be economically challenged and cannot produce the quantities of a large farmer in today’s competitive agricultural market,” explained NRCS State Conservationist Walt Douglas.
SFI funds assist farmers whose entire farming operation consists of 197 acres or less. At least 10 percent of the cropland acres must be planted to alternative crops to be eligible. Contracts last five years and participants are required to keep financial, nutrient and pest management records for the length of the contract. NRCS Small Farmer Liaison Wilfred Pace said this program reaches out to customers who may have not ranked high enough in previous USDA program sign-ups. “South Carolina was one of the pioneers of the NRCS Small Farmer Initiative in 2005.The key to this program is extensive and innovative outreach. We are really trying to target the small farmer by going into their communities and letting them know that this financial and technical assistance is available.”
Glasscho markets his products through two unique programs. For example, his farm was designated as a Certified Roadside Market under a program of the SC Department of Agriculture. On Wednesdays and Fridays, his picturesque farm serves as a miniature market where locals purchase fresh produce. His farm also serves as a market for the Seeds of Hope Program. This is a network of farm-stands in South Carolina that are located on church properties. Founded twenty years ago, the program helps farmers like Glasscho find places to sell their produce.
A third generation farmer, Glasscho inherited his farm, and his love of the land, from his father and grandfather. “I farm because I love it and because I want to carry on the tradition that I grew up learning to cherish.” A devoted conservationist, Glasscho consults with local NRCS District Conservationist Trinette Vereen. “Mr. Glasscho conducts a soil test every year in an effort to control the amount of chemicals he uses on his produce,” explained Vereen. “He is very conscientious about protecting soil and water quality.” In his ongoing efforts to be an outstanding steward of the land, he plans to install a grass filter strip along the edge of his crop field. The filter strip will provide a buffer between his crops and a nearby pond on his farm, thereby enhancing water quality and preventing runoff of harmful chemicals.
Glasscho has also maximized his profits as a small farmer through the use of plastic mulch and drip irrigation. This is an environmentally sound farming practice that conserves soil moisture and minimizes the use of some agricultural chemicals that control weeds. While reducing spread of weeds, it also decreases soil compaction and can increase growth of the crops. In fact, plant growth under plastic mulch is often twice as large. This is a time saving profit-booster for small farmers who have limited acreage and oftentimes work alone. As a result, his vegetable crops that have shown a significant increase in earliness, yield, and quality.
As mayor of nearby Greeleyville since 2002, Glasscho is well-respected in Williamsburg County. “Mr. Glasscho is a pillar in the community. He is always willing to help others in need and his love for farming is contagious,” said Vereen. As an excellent role model for small farmers, Glasscho says farming is a labor of love. “I do it because it’s what I’ve always done, and because I can’t imagine my life without it.”
German Glasscho Receives SC NRCS Small Farmer of the Year Award