I realized this morning that we haven’t introduced ourselves for a while! We have lots of new customers and followers that perhaps don’t know our whole story, and, well, you should!
Paul and I are both transplants from up north. We met in 1998 and were married in 2000. We lived in Greer for a couple of years, and Paul became interested in working in politics. In 2003 we moved to the DC area and lived the big city life. We had a lot of fun in the early days, but when our first baby was born in 2005, we started to feel a little stretched thin. We continued to multiply, and by the time baby number 3 was on the way, we really started to think about wanting more open air and a place for the kids to run free.
During this time, Paul took a trip to the Low Country of SC to visit some farms, as he handled Agriculture Policy and Natural Resource issues for his Member of Congress. While on the trip, Paul says he “started to connect the dots, realizing what kind of a life [he] wanted for [his] family.” When he returned, he was so excited to talk about what he had seen and learned.
I was delighted. You see, I had already been on the local food train. We lived in a beautiful neighborhood of Alexandria, VA and were walking distance to an awesome farmers’ market. I had read books about local eating like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and even had our family commit to eating only locally sourced food for an entire summer. I was enamored with the idea of eating humanely raised meat and sustainably raised vegetables, and with directly supporting the people in my local community who made it all possible. I was thrilled that Paul was jumping on the bandwagon, too!
Our wheels turning, we hashed out a plan to moved back to SC, after 8 years in the DC area. And so, with baby number 3 only 2 weeks old, we packed up and left DC. We found a cute little place sort of in the country to rent while we searched for a plot of land to buy. It was on this rental property that we planted our very first garden. That was 2012.
In 2013, when I was 8 months pregnant with baby number 4, we relocated to what would become the very first site of our farm in Duncan, SC. Even then we had no idea that we would soon become full-time farmers. We just wanted a little more land and some laying hens. Maybe a couple of goats. And so Harp & Shamrock Croft, LLC was born.
Late that year we attended the very last Hub City Farmers’ Market of the season. We had been toying with the idea of selling excess veggies at market, and after visiting several area markets, we knew that Hub City was the one for us. The sense of community, the mission of the market, and the people that we met that day are all reasons that we decided to join. And in 2014, with 3 kids and an infant, with Paul working full-time, we plunged in to our next endeavor as “part-time” farmers.
We learned so much that first year as market gardeners. We gleaned knowledge from the farms that we admired, we read and studied constantly. We experimented. And we showed up to market nearly every Saturday. The next year we continued with HCFM and we joined a second market for several weeks. Then in 2016, after months of deliberation, we took the plunge, and Paul quit his full-time job to become a full-time farmer.
I’m going to stop there for a second and talk about why we did that. Because our story sounds idyllic. “Big City Folks Trade Everything for the Farm Life.” People visit the farm and talk about how beautiful and peaceful it is. Followers on Instagram call our farm “heaven on earth.” And it is beautiful, yes, I agree. But there is so much work. So. Much. Work. This life is not for the faint of heart, I promise.
So, why did we do it? Why did we risk everything and become farmers? Several reasons, really. One is because we love growing food. Another is because we love owning our own business, having only ourselves to answer to. Another is to teach our kids how to grow food and run a business. And another is because we want to do our part to preserve our environment. But the most important reason that I can think of is this: food choice. That’s right. The most important reason that we decided to enter this never-ending, grueling, frustrating as all get out kind of life is to do our part to ensure that people just like you continue to have small farms and farmers’ markets from where to buy your food.
Just imagine a world without small farms. Imagine no farmers’ markets, no heirloom vegetables, no rare seeds. Imagine nothing but big box stores with two varieties of tomatoes, but it doesn’t matter what varieties they are because they both taste like Styrofoam. Imagine a world with nothing but monoculture, no one building up the soil and tending to animals on clean pasture. Imagine that you have no choice in where you buy your food, and no choice over where your dollars go.
In 2016 when Paul had quit his job, we were full of faith. We were certain that this path set before us was a calling. We knew that we would never be wealthy, and we never wanted to be. We felt confident that God would provide. So we moved forward, tending 2 markets whenever we could. We expanded into wholesaling. Eventually we built a store on our farm and opened a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. We started teaching gardening and soap making classes, hosting field trips. We believed that education was a large part of our purpose as well.
As we expanded we knew that we were outgrowing our little-less-than-3-acre farm in Duncan. We had been watching the market casually for a while, having no idea how or when something was going to come along. And then on May 1, 2018 a 7-acre property fell just into our price range. The very first time we visited this property Paul and I looked at each other and said, “feels like home.” It was a very long Summer and Fall fitting all the pieces together, but with a lot of prayer and a lot of help from friends and family, we picked up and moved our entire operation to what is now Harp & Shamrock Croft, LLC in Wellford. This time with 4 kids and a baby, 5 goats, 60 chickens, 4 cats, and a dog. Not to mention all the farm equipment, including the 50-foot high tunnel!
That was one year ago. It feels like a lifetime. We have worked absolutely non-stop since then. Because farming is our only source of income, we knew we had to get things up and running as soon as possible. So on top of getting our house unpacked and livable, we had to get the whole farm ready. We also had a second home on the property that was in such bad shape that we nearly razed it. Instead we decided to restore it, and that house is what we call the Farmhouse.
Since we moved we’ve seen flood, drought, uncontrollable pests. We’ve worked through illness and fatigue. We’ve trudged on through crop failure and equipment failure. And you know what? We haven’t missed a market through all of that. This current year we’ve attended two markets, we’ve held our regular festival events, we’ve supplied our 3-season CSA, we’ve hosted field trips and other gatherings, we’ve sold to our regular retail outlets, we’ve opened our Farm Store over 40 hours per week, and we have started buyers’ groups that offer delivery service to certain locations. We also opened our outdoor wedding and event venue: Harp & Shamrock Croft Events.
Through all of it, we continue to show up. We do that for our customers. And the thing is, every farmer I know could tell a similar story of showing up no matter the obstacle.
In spite of all the obstacles, we are so thankful for the many, many blessings along the way. And there have been so many. It’s hard sometimes to remember the gifts when we’re knee deep in struggles, but there really are so many things to be thankful for. One of which is our loyal customers, so thank you to those of you who support us regularly. We couldn’t do it without you.
Let me end my story with this: please keep showing up for your farmers. We need you to keep coming to market or to drive out to the farm even though it’s perhaps not as convenient as the grocery store. This is the only way that we’re going to be able to keep showing up for you.
Thanks for reading. Hopefully you’ve gotten to know us a little bit better. See you at market!