CAYCE, S.C. — About 100 attendees of the South Carolina Agricultural Council’s quarterly meeting Thursday got a taste of what North Augustans are now enjoying – organic vegetables from Blue Clay Farm prepared and seasoned by the chefs at Manuel's Bread Café.
The event, held at the South Carolina Farm Bureau, featured Manuel Verney-Carron, the owner of the Hammond’s Ferry riverfront cafe and farm.
His partner, Janis Persenaire, an expert in sustainable farming, explained how they use raised beds, hydroponics and composting to produce natural ingredients. Persenaire, originally from Canada, teamed up with Verney-Carron in August after moving to the area from Kentucky. The biggest challenge of her new job, she said, is balancing her work with her 11-month-old baby.
The theme of the meeting was “Alternative Agribusiness Strategies,” using sustainable concepts such as polyculture and permaculture, planting a diversity of crops and favoring natural methods.
Direct composting is key, Persenaire said.
“It’s just a great way to encourage earthworms and to add those valuable nutrients back into the soil,” she said. In the next couple of months, the farm will try an African technique known as a “keyhole garden.” It’s named after its structure, which is a column surrounded by mesh wire acting as a compost bin with a raised bed and circular shape. In Africa, it feeds a family of six through the three-month dry period when crops dry out in the field.
“You can fill it with whatever you’d put in your compost heap — kitchen waste, manure, grass clippings — and then use rainwater either from a runoff spout or somewhere on your farm,” Persenaire said. “You’re not putting manure on top, and you’d have to wait to harvest the plants. It’s going directly to the soil level. It’s a great way to feed your plants and to utilize a lot of scraps as well.”
For the North Augusta farm, a central focus is on successive plantings, paying attention to timelines and setting in motion a continual harvest, rather than just planting one crop in March or April.
“It’s important to have those replacement plants; otherwise, you’re just going to have to run to the store like everyone else,” Persenaire said. “We’ re hoping to keep that constant supply so we’ve got ready vegetables all summer long and hopefully well into the fall and winter, also.”
Last fall, the farm planted more than 250 cloves of garlic, using three distinct varieties. A conventional grocery store, she said, typically offers just one common garlic. That’s despite about 600 subvarieties of garlic in existence.
Thursday’s event wasn’t a typical convention. One attendee gushed excitedly about the wonders of Kricket Krap fertilizer, which she carts in from Augusta. Another pondered aloud about the need for rotating tomato plants.
Afterward, the group lined up for the restaurant’s grilled vegetable sandwiches and soup made from kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, carrots and bay leaf seasoning.
Verney-Carron explained how he and Persenaire farm their own tilapia, which is first sent to them through FedEx in plastic bags. The farm keeps the tilapia in a tank and then harvests them when the fish grow large enough.
Afterward, a Charleston, S.C., farmer was impressed enough by the duo to proclaim he would do some things differently on his farm.