Honoring the land and its resources

June 3rd, 2024
By Guest Contributors

This is an excerpt from the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of the Upstate Advocate, Upstate Forever's twice-yearly publication. To read a digital copy of the complete publication, please click here.

Elijah Ackerman | Co-owner, Rabbit Crest Farms

I was five years old when I was adopted by Joyce and Bill at the Pickens County Courthouse in 1994. I still vividly remember sitting on the judge’s knee and swinging the gavel to make it all official.

Joyce and Bill were retired and kept a sizable hobby farm where we housed cutting horses, raised some chickens, and grew enough food to drive around and leave plastic grocery bags full of green beans, ears of corn, yellow squash, and more of the summer’s abundance on strangers’ doorsteps.

What I don’t remember as vividly are the times Joyce and Bill needed to incrementally sell off tracts of their acreage for reasons that I wouldn’t come to understand until adulthood.

When I was almost ten, we moved to a smaller plot in Laurens, and by the time I was in high school, we had moved into a cozy little ranch house in Mauldin. I can’t say I cared much at the time. If anything, I liked living so close to the skatepark and not having to wake up as early to make it to school on time.

It wasn’t until I met my wife Sarah that I noticed a feeling of longing for natural places again. We’d reminisce about the fields and woods that were familiar on our commutes, that were one day there but then gone and turned to mud by the next. We never really put much thought into what we could do about it, not realizing we had been growing the answer in our backyard for a while.

After two years of dating, I had discovered two very important aspects of Sarah: first, she is not a material woman. Second, she absolutely loves tomatoes. These lessons coalesced into the gift of a few packs of specialty heirloom tomato seeds to add to her garden that year. By the next year, we were living together and her single 4x16-foot garden bed grew to four 4x16 beds, with no plans of slowing down.

At the same time, Sarah’s mother, Donna, was growing her own flowers in her garden as she began to provide professional floral work. And then, the Covid-19 pandemic gave us — like so many others — a lack of work and a lot of time to think.

I remember sending the text to Sarah one day, “I think we could do this. Like, for real.” We threw together some logistics with Donna, and the search for land started.

It wasn’t an easy process. I looked at so many tracts of land around Greenville County being sold by folks that reminded me of Joyce and Bill. I wanted that life back, to feel secure in a space full of what I’ve always called “the green,” those open spaces you see out in the foothill country in late spring, with tall grasses rolling down to a treeline with a creek not far behind. I wanted to protect it from development, and make sure it could be shared for all to visit and enjoy.

When we finally found our land, that thought process led to the philosophy that would guide my style of farming — to honor and respect the land first.

This led us to commit to a sustainable, small-scale, organic, no-till, and hands-on farming style. For us, this means in addition to not using chemical sprays or fertilizers, we also shy away from heavy machinery whenever possible that might cause lasting damage to the land, and do as much of the farming as we can by hand, from planting, to harvesting, and even moving soil.

Sarah and I are in our early 30s, much younger than the average farmer, but we are a part of a flourishing and growing generation of younger farmers who are dedicated to sustainability and quality over scale. We fully recognize that large-scale agriculture puts most of the food on most of our tables, even ours, but we believe that it doesn’t necessarily need to stay that way.

As long as more people continue to recognize that land is a finite resource that deserves compassion and respect just like every other member of our community, and as long as we keep earning the support of that community by providing quality, accessible crops, we see a bright future.

This is more important to us than ever since the birth of our little light, Rylan, on July 20, 2023. She already chirps and smiles with delight at the flower arrangements we leave in her room. I see myself in her, and I can’t wait to hear her tell stories of make-believe adventures in the fields and forests several years from now, just like I did to Joyce and Bill.

Places like Rabbit Crest Farms are special, natural, and deserve to be protected, and shared. Farming is a hard life, but we always knew that would be the case and we aren’t giving up. We plan on growing old here, and sharing it with the public however we can, for as long as possible.

In the meantime, we’ll be raising a family who always has a little bit of dirt under their fingernails while growing sustainable, quality flowers and food for our community to the best of our ability.

Through the Generations Campaign, you can help Upstate Forever protect the natural resources and special places that sustain us physically, economically, mentally, and spiritually.


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