Meet our farmers:
Rooted in South Carolina, Educated at Clemson University
The Dorn family has occupied the same patch of land in Edgefield County since 1764. And the family has always grown stuff, raised stuff and sewn stuff related to agriculture.
Since 1958, that “stuff” is dairy cows, now raised by third-generation independent dairy farmer Watson Dorn. His grandfather Marvin started Hickory Hill, and then passed it to his son Jim, who served on the S.C. Dairy Commission and the National Dairy Board. Today, Watson, wife Lisa and their two children raise cows, grow their feed and bottle their own milk brand with help from a small crew of employees. The average cow makes seven gallons of milk each day. Machines milk 220 Holsteins twice every day 365 days a year. Once at 2 a.m. and again at 2 p.m. That’s 1,500 gallons of milk per day, 8,000 gallons each week, and 32,000 gallons per month.
Whole milk, chocolate milk and buttermilk are bottled at the farm. Some of it goes into Clemson Blue Cheese, made and packaged on the Clemson University campus.
Hickory Hill sells milk that is low-temperature pasteurized. That’s a fancy way of saying the milk is heated to 145 degrees for 30 minutes — a process that kills harmful bacteria but saves the good, which helps your body to digest the milk easily. Many grocery store brands heat their milk for 15 seconds at 175 degrees, which kills bad bacteria and the natural stuff, too. The Dorns don’t homogenize their milk, either. Just shake the bottle and watch the milk rise to the top. And it stays fresher, too. When stored below 40 degrees, Hickory Hill whole milk has a shelf life of 22 days; chocolate milk 18 days; and buttermilk about 6 weeks.
“Life’s a peach” is more than a slogan for the McLeod family, who run massive orchards in McBee, S.C. Fourth-generation owner Kemp McLeod and his son Spencer grow peaches on land that has been in the family for a century. Their nearly 30 varieties of peaches include Cary Mac, developed on the farm and named for McLeod’s grandfather.
Kemp’s great-great grandfather, Hector McLeod, planted the first orchards in McBee around 1916. Now the family has 900 acres of peach trees, 650 of them in production, and they ship their Mac’s Pride brand all over the U.S. and Canada, as well as overseas. That’s a far cry from the first-generation business, when peaches were sold to travelers passing through McBee on the Seaboard Coastline Railroad.
Although peaches are their No. 1 crop, McLeod Farms — South Carolina’s Farm of the Year in 2011 — doesn’t end there. They have a sizable business in corn, wheat, rye and soybeans and a retail store that is a favorite stop for folks headed to and from South Carolina’s beaches. They also grow strawberries, blueberries, red potatoes, cabbage, sweet corn, squash, onions, bell peppers, okra, tomatoes, peas, pumpkins, turnips, egg plants and other produce that’s sold at their roadside markets.
First-generation farmers Chalmers and Lori Anne Carr represent the best in the farming business after major ag conglomerates Bayer and Case International collectively awarded them 2017 Top Producers of the Year. The couple from Ridge Spring, S.C., runs Titan Farms, one of the largest peach producers in the U.S. They also grow peppers and broccoli, and process peaches sold for baby food and yogurt.
The Carrs moved from Florida to South Carolina in 1995 so Chalmers could manage a farm he later leased and eventually purchased. In the beginning he grew 1,500 acres of peaches that has since grown to 6,200 acres of the fruit, and another 1,500 acres planted in vegetables — all over the course of 18 years on a 20-mile stretch of land. The “Ridge,” home to the Carrs and numerous farming families, is South Carolina’s most famous peach-growing region, and it’s one of the most popular sources of the fruit worldwide. Peaches are said to taste sweeter here. That may be because they grow where the Coastal Plains and its sandy soils meet the Piedmont clay, making the ground extra fertile. The land also slopes, which provides good drainage. Peaches are big business here with some 42 types of the fruit in large-scale production. Titan alone grows 50 percent of the state’s crop.
Some folks probably thought Kevin and Lydia Yon were completely nuts when they bought a business about which they knew nothing. Then they paired it with another undertaking that might have seemed an odd match to an outsider. But running a pecan grove and a sprawling certified Black Angus Beef® brand cattle herd has its similarities. Both require teamwork, hard work, dedication and consistency.
The Yons moved to Ridge Spring in 1996 to start a 100-acre cattle farm. Ten years later, they bought The Nut House & Country Market on East Main Street, and Watson Farms Orchard just down the road. The grove produces over 100,000 pounds of pecans each year. That’s more than the weight of two empty Greyhound buses. When the original owner retired at 93, he asked the Yons to consider taking over, mainly because he knew the couple’s children wanted to stay in their hometown and in agriculture after college. All three now run the pecan business and still work the first-generation cattle farm, whose family name is known for growing some of America’s best Angus beef stock.
Pecans at the Nut House are sold shelled, cracked, in pieces and made into various treats, including pecan brittles, pies and pralines — all town favorites. Wholesale purchase also is available and customers can bring in their own pecans to be shelled by hand.
Well, you probably guessed it. Stone Roastery in North Augusta, S.C., is all about coffee. It's roasted in small batches there, brewed there and drunk there by the gallons.
Roaster and owner Brad Stone starts with nothing but the best — 100 percent Arabica beans from tiny plantations around the world. Stone says those are the most flavorful because coffee beans grown at higher altitudes naturally taste better and smell better, too. But you don't have to be a coffee snob to know Stone's product is just plain good. Clemson's Best was drawn to Stone Roastery because it truly is a family affair. While Brad handles the roasting, his wife and mom make baked-from-scratch cakes and offer a wide variety from coconut to strawberry to chocolate and, coffee cake, of course. Their coffee grounds also go into Carolina Almond Coffee, the fifth flavor produced under the Clemson’s Best name brand from ingredients grown or made in South Carolina.
The Stone Roastery building — a converted dry cleaning business site in a bustling town not far from Augusta, Ga. — is, for lack of a better word, eclectic. Writer Michael Stern, the brains behind RoadFood.com, summed it up perfectly: “Stone Roastery is an intriguing cultural mix: urban-hip in its beverage selection, country pure in its pastries, and deep Dixie in its decor." (The Stones own a model of the General Lee, an iconic made famous by the Dukes of Hazard, and paintings on the wall pay tribute to their strong beliefs in family, faith, community and the American flag). Overall, Stone Roastery is just a fun place to hang. Even its high-top tables are painted to resemble checkerboards.
Everything about the people, the place and the product spells Clemson and the spirit behind Clemson’s Best.