Green Acres The Thompson Family Farm: Where Traditions Continue to Grow

By Connie Barnard

Green Acres The Thompson Family Farm: Where Traditions Continue to Grow

As she sits on the porch of her family’s historic Bucksville farmhouse, Kristi Thompson Wall can almost catch the scent of 1700 strawberry plants ripening to luscious perfection in a field across the way. In a few weeks, if the weather cooperates, we’ll no longer have to buy those pale perfect grocery versions that look and taste like papier mache. We can pick our own from a plot where they were planted and nurtured with loving care by a family that has owned and tilled this land since 1845.

Kristi’s great-great grandparents Julious and Amanda Thompson raised 15 children on the 200 acre plot at a time when there were few roads in this section of Horry County. Many residents used rivers and creeks as their main source of transportation. The Thompsons, like most families, produced the food they needed for survival and bartered for what they could not grow. It was a hard life, one controlled by the whims of Mother Nature. Kristi’s father, proud Clemson graduate Sid Thompson, says of a fallow field nearby: “That tobacco field right there made me want to get a college education.” Yet an enduring love has kept this family connected to it through the years. Sid adds with a smile, “Here I am, on land that has been in my family for five generations.”

Today, thanks to the hard work, creativity and shared commitment, the Thompson Farm is a thriving operation. Selected as the 2011 South Carolina Small Farm of the Year, it has undergone an amazing transformation in recent years, a true labor of love for Kristi, her brothers Rick and Scott, Scott’s wife Amy and their young daughters, Sydney, Olivia and Natalie, and their father Sid. Looking for ways to revitalize the historic homestead in a troubled economy, Kristi says Scott built a greenhouse to grow flowers for his landscaping business. Soon there were three greenhouses and innovative plans to share the land and its historic past with the greater community.

Green Acres The Thompson Family Farm (Photo 2)

In 2009, Thompson Farm and Nursery opened to the public, offering tours and special events. It also hosts educational tours for area school groups, personalizing each to fit the requirements of South Carolina state standards. It is clearly an idea whose time has come. Despite Horry County’s rural roots, significant numbers of its young people think food arrives in plastic packages and describe fun as an electronic game. Through hands-on seasonal activities, students visiting the farm learn the importance of soil, nutrients, water, insects, and life cycles of plants and farm animals. In the process, they get to go on hay rides, feed animals, pick crops and visit Daisy’s Planting Shed. Specialized activities may also include an Animal Tracks Detective Tour, a Dirt Is Fun Tour, or a Spring Pizza Tour in which participants visit Kristi’s Lasagna Garden to find their pizza toppings and learn how to grow their own vegetables. How much fun is that! They also visit the oldest barn in Horry County (built on the land in 1910) and a memorabilia-filled old general store moved to the farm from Bucksport Landing. Rhonda Ethersen, who coordinates curriculum standards into the field trips, estimates that over 4,000 elementary school students visited the farm’s Pumpkin Patch last fall alone.

Another popular event is the Corn Maze. Each year the Thompsons build an amazing, unique eight acre design which hundreds come to explore. Autumn visitors also enjoy Saturday afternoon festivals that include picking pumpkins, riding in the hay wagon, roasting marshmallows, and watching movies in an open field under a harvest moon.

Each fall the farm also hosts Bass Pro Shop-sponsored dove hunts which teach youngsters gun safety and responsible hunting. During the holiday season, visitors experience Christmas on the Farm which includes a Winter Wonderland with real snow, a living nativity, traditional Christmas characters, and Southern crafts. The farm is also available throughout the year for birthday parties, corporate functions, garden club meetings and special seasonal events such as Easter egg hunts.

A menagerie of animals on the farm provides entertainment and companionship for the Thompsons and everyone who visits the farm. They also require a lot of work and a lot of love. In addition to traditional farm animals, there are some exotic surprises such as a pair of llamas who think they are lap dogs and several animals who retired to the farm after careers spent entertaining guests at the Dixie Stampede.

In an exciting new direction, the Thompsons participated in the 2010 and 2011 Coastal Uncorked Festivals, hosting a spectacular Farm to Table meal. Due to popular demand, participation has been limited to two hundred guests who enjoy dinner under the stars and food fresh from the field. Plans are now underway for a third Farm to Table dinner in conjunction with the upcoming 2012 Coastal Uncorked Festival in April. The family also provides Farm to Table produce for local restaurants, small food markets and limited home delivery.

Horry County Clemson Extension Agent Blake Lanford has great respect for the Thompsons’ bold and creative endeavors to sustain their family farm and share farm life with the greater community. Referring to this trend as agri-tourism, Lanford says, “They have effectively reinvented a former tobacco farm and homestead by tapping into the tourism sector and a demonstrated interest in the area’s rural heritage…They are also interested in local food production and distribution that taps into the demand regionally for fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Green Acres The Thompson Family Farm (Photo 3)

Kristi’s generation did not grow up on the farm. A former Miss Myrtle Beach Sun Fun, she and her brothers were raised in the heart of Myrtle Beach. Even today they live in their own homes along the greater Grand Strand and have full-time careers in other fields. Kristi works as a nurse at Georgetown Hospital and lives with her husband, Wayne, on a horse farm in Williamsburg County. Scott owns a landscaping firm in Myrtle Beach, and Amy is a home healthcare nurse. Rick is a sergeant with the Horry County Police Department. However, with their dad, they all spend many hours each week working at the farm and planning its future. “Scott is the idea man,” says Kristi. “The rest of us follow his lead.” Regularly, the family comes together for Sunday dinner at the farm where they discuss new plans and adjust ongoing projects. A new direction they are currently pursuing is hydroponics, which involves growing greenhouse crops fed and watered by remote control in a soil-free environment. They believe it is important to seek innovative ways to achieve sustainability and help prevent a worldwide shortage of both food and water.

These Sunday afternoon gatherings are also a way for the Thompsons to honor the memory of their mother, Norma, who died of cancer in 2011. Sid still finds it difficult to talk about his beloved wife and Conway High School sweetheart whom he calls the absolute mold for the character of the family. Norma’s lively spirit is still very much a presence at the Thompson Farm and another reason for their dedication to it. Clearly, Kristi and her entire family are motivated by a deep love for the land, the life it provides and the heritage it sustains.

To learn more about the Thompson Farm and check the dates for the opening of the strawberry fields, visit their website at www.thompsonfarmandnursery.com or follow them on Facebook at Thompson Farm.

About this writer

  • Connie BarnardConnie Barnard traveled the world as a military wife and taught high school and college composition for over 30 years. She has been a regular contributor to Sasee since its first issue in 2002.

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