Grounded in farm tradition

Deep in Georgetown County woods, about 22 miles from the city, people are pushing, pulling, picking, plowing and petting tradition.

They - members of the Williams family and their youthful staff - believe if you give the soil your best, it just might give you its best back.

If it doesn't, it's OK. If it does, you appreciate the bounty.

In the meantime, you take advantage of the lessons learned from working outdoors with the creatures and crops collectively calling this open space surrounded by trees home, Millgrove Farms.

With the motto of "Preserving Yesterday's Heritage for Tomorrow's Legacy," the sustainable farm is an existence and experience for folks appreciative of lovers of land and old-fashioned living.

A produce market, fashioned from a horse stable, is a showcase for an array of produce produced in South Carolina or right on family land nurtured by Ben Williams, his wife, Carol Williams, their kin and their friends.

"We are so far removed from the farm that some people don't know where eggs come from," said Mary Fairchild, a Maryville community resident who works at Millgrove. "It's good to know some of us are getting back to the basics."

Collectively, the Williams family never left sweat-from-the-brow farming.

Ben Williams, for instance, is continuing customs he witnessed while working with his grandfather, Archie Buford Williams.

A World War veteran who passed away at 102 in 1998, Archie Buford Williams maintained several gardens alone at 101.

He would climb atop a faded McCormick Farmall tractor to tend to his fields of crops after putting on a pot of string beans, seasoned with hog jowls, in his spotless kitchen.

His 54-year-old grandson can be seen wearing a sweaty blue T-shirt with "Millgrove Farms Crew" emblazoned across the chest while collecting Coastal Bermuda hay and picking red okra, eggplant and other crops from the field. Parts of the land here, hundreds of acres, used to be Millgrove Plantation, where rice was the primary crop.

"Ben has wanted to be a farmer since he was 5 years old," said his wife, Carol Williams, 54. "He loves farming, and we want the farm to support itself. We want to use the land how God intended it to be used. God ain't making no more dirt, and we want this farm to be around for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren we will never see."

Their three children - Bengie, 27, Ashley, 24, and Patrick, 23 - have all been key to continuing the tradition, with Ashley helping out when she's home from a Grenadian veterinary school and Patrick when he isn't studying for the Medical College Admission Test. (Their grandfather, Dr. L. Benton Williams is 84 and still practicing medicine in Georgetown). Bengie, who served two tours in Iraq, is studying biological sciences at Horry-Georgetown Technical College.

Even children not their own are believers in the necessity and benefits of farming the old-timey way.

"Millgrove Farms helps keep the old Southern ways of living," said Maggie Culbertson, a 17-year-old Waccamaw High School student who assists in keeping the produce market organized and stocked and feeds the animals. "It gives children somewhere to go to pet animals and grown-ups somewhere to relax and realize what it was like in the olden days when everybody worked on the farm."

A former horse stable serves as the marketplace where baskets, crates and antique wagons hold Marconi peppers, Ichiban eggplants, Charleston gray watermelons, scuppernongs, pluots (a hybrid of plums and apricots), peaches and other produce apart of the colorful spectrum on display.

Free-range eggs, goat cheese, bacon and boiled peanuts are kept in a see-through freezer against a decor featuring stuffed chickens and other country bric-a-brac.

Behind all of this bounty in a former tobacco shed is bundles of Coastal Bermuda hay for horses and bags of deer and squirrel corn.

"We love what we do, and we love that we can serve our community and give back," said Carol Williams before neatly stacking peaches, scuppernongs, heirloom tomatoes and other produce into a paper bag for Barbara Lewis.

Lewis, along with her husband, Harry, had driven up in a gray van with a few of their 14 children and 18 grandchildren.

"If we didn't have farms, we wouldn't have fresh produce," said Samantha Boykin, a 14-year-old worker who helps out with a variety of tasks, including feeding the critters bought and donated since Millgrove Farms opened Sept. 26.

The animals are housed behind the produce market. There are goats, a rooster who eats a tomato daily, guineas and two sows.

She believes Millgrove Farms gives youth a framework in which to gain life skills.

Here, with the sun as their umbrella, youth relish nature and the gifts it gives with ease.

"I drive the tractors and pick up hay," said Nathan Cooper, 11, as he visited Matilda the cow. "It gets my muscles bigger."