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Bio-Way Farm: Growing Organic in South Carolina

chris_tomatoes

Sermons grows a large variety of
truck crops, including tomatoes.

Chris Sermons owns and operates Bio-Way Farm, a small, certified-organic truck farm in Laurens, South Carolina.  From tomatoes to blueberries to kale, this year-round farm rarely ceases operation, and helps to educate the next generation of farmers along the way.

Sermons began farming 15 years ago in 2004, starting with just one to two acres of asparagus, and he continued to expand until his current farming production of 6 acres. His operation is a market farm, selling directly to customers in the nearby Greenville area, and he utilizes a variety of markets to sell his produce, including local farmers markets, farm to table restaurants and through a local CSA (community supported agriculture). 

The vegetables are grown seasonally, usually year-round, and include a large assortment, such as tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, peppers, pole beans, kale, sweet potatoes, okra, and melons.  He also grows niche market vegetables, such as shitake mushroom, which usually take eight months to a year from inoculation to harvest, with harvesting occurring in the winter months.

Bio-Way Farm has been certified organic since 2006.  This lengthy process included assistance from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, a non-profit advocacy group for organic farmers.  While working to become certified-organic, Sermons took a look at the overall resource concerns on the property, which included developing an irrigation water management plan and conducting an energy audit.  This led Sermons to NRCS, where he participated in the Conservation Security Program (CSP) to install cover crops on 2 acres.   

“From building soil and protecting our critical resources to solving some of the infrastructure issues we have on the farm, such as irrigation, working with NRCS has been advantageous to us in many ways,” said Sermons.

lisa_chris

NRCS District Conservationist Lisa Good (right) 
has worked with Sermons to install drip irrigation 
and a seasonal high tunnel through EQIP.

Recently, Sermons completed an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contract, which enabled him to access a six-acre pond on his property for irrigation.  Through this pond, he was able to pipe water to two production fields, using drip irrigation.  This was a more efficient form of irrigation for Sermons, who was using water tanks attached to a tractor to irrigate crops, prior to the EQIP contract.  He also built to 30 x 96-foot-high tunnel on his property, which will help extend his growing season during extreme temperatures.

In addition to growing produce, Bio-Way Farm acts as a learning farm, forming alliances with agriculture universities or other farm-related organizations to expand knowledge of organic farming.  Sermons is currently participating in an organic vegetable comparison trial with Tuskegee University and North Carolina State University.  This trial is to determine how well the vegetables grow and is part of a larger study for farmers in the southern states, ranging from North Carolina to Mississippi.

Bio-Way Farm is also open to hosting students and others interested in learning more about organic farming.  Sermons currently has students from Greenville Technical College and Virginia Tech University working during the summer to gain experience.  The farm is also called a WWOOF farm, which stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  Through this organization, aspiring farmers exchange labor for room, board and experience.  Sermons currently has a rising college freshman working as a WWOOFer three days a week. 

woofer_chris

Bio-Way Farm welcomes students
and others seeking to trade labor
for experience working on a farm.

Bio-Way Farm works to connect people to farming and has hosted several local workshops for landowners,” said Lisa Good, NRCS District Conservationist in Laurens.  “Chris is very knowledgeable of organic principles and has helped other farmers pursue the steps of transitioning their farms to organic.

In the future, Bio-Way Farm plans to focus more on Agri-tourism and sharing the farm with the public, as well as hosting farm to table events.  Sermons also plans to continue his conservation efforts and hopes to expand drip irrigation to additional production fields.  “[NRCS] has been a great relationship and we appreciate all the help, expertise and resources,” said Sermons.