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Love of the Land

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

When Rickie Goldberg first laid eyes on her husband, Richard, during a business trip to Pawleys Island three years ago, she knew he was the man she'd been waiting for all her life.

"I was shazamed," she said, a Southern drawl accenting her words and a beatific grin lighting her face. "When he hopped down out of that big ol' truck, it was like I was hit by lightning."

The couple started dating, and when Richard took her home to see his 12-acre property in Hagley, Rickie was doubly convinced their meeting was fated.

"I'm a city girl, but I looked around and said 'this is my farm,' " she recalled.

Working on a farm had been a childhood dream for her, and one she'd never quite let go of. So, when Richard proposed six months and four days after they met, Rickie didn't waste any time saying yes and getting started on the life she always knew she'd been meant to live. She left her job as director of the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau and, together, she and Richard went about turning his land into True Blue Farms.

They cultivated about an acre, planting a vegetable garden just down from the house, where they grow butter beans, green beans, Dixie Lee field peas, heirloom tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, bell peppers, okra, banana peppers and zucchini. They also grow blueberries and herbs, and are experimenting with two local varieties of hot peppers: the Charleston hot pepper and the Carolina cayenne pepper.

A little farther away they have a flower garden for zinnias and ornamental sunflowers.

They don't use pesticides or chemicals on any of it.

This is their third summer growing, but it's the first summer they're selling what they produce.

"The first two summers we gave stuff away," Rickie said. "We wanted a couple of years under our belt to make sure we could do it. We didn't want to promise somebody something and then not be able to deliver."

Having proven their capabilities, they now sell to local markets and vendors, such as Lee's Farmers Market in Murrells Inlet and Kings Produce in Pawleys Island, and restaurants including the Carriage House Club.

But as word about the farm has spread, there's also a large demand from individuals who call ahead to place orders and schedule a pick-up time.

The individual demand is so great for some items, such as okra, the Goldbergs don't offer it to markets.

The Goldbergs' heirloom tomatoes are also popular, although some folks are surprised by their appearance.

"People who aren't familiar with them will say 'there's something wrong with these tomatoes; I want my money back,' " Richard said. "They're ugly things, but they taste so much better than hybrid tomatoes."

Fresh eggs are another hot item and Richard said he can understand why.

"They taste better. It's amazing," he said. "Even if you use them in a cake, you can taste the difference. With store-bought eggs, it tastes good, because you've got sugar and butter and all that stuff we like, but with fresh free range eggs, it's so rich and the color is a lot deeper yellow."

The Goldbergs have more than 30 free range chickens they keep for fresh eggs, including two Ameraucana chickens, which lay eggs with pale blue shells.

The couple knew nothing about chickens when they decided to bring them to the farm, they said, but Rickie's brother has chickens on his farm in North Carolina and "we thought wouldn't it be cool and fun, and wouldn't it be neat if we had fresh eggs every morning," Rickie said.

The Goldbergs started with seven chickens because their rector, Ed Kelaher of Christ the King Waccamaw Episcopal Church, said seven is a religious number.

"I figured we needed all the help we could get," Richard said.

They did well enough with the chickens that they recently got 27 pullets to increase the egg supply to meet demand. They said the biggest challenge in raising chickens is keeping predators away. They have to worry about hawks and coyotes, but they said their dogs, two border collie mixes, help keep watch.

"One watches a little too well," Richard said. "It drools when it's watching, but it keeps the hawks at bay."

When Richard moved onto the property eight years ago, it was "just woods," he said. He cleared some of the land for his kids' horses, but when the kids moved away, they took the horses with them and the land was going unused.

"I was just living here sort of like a feral man until she came into my life," Richard said. "It was just me and the dogs and some pastures."

When Rickie shared her vision of turning the land into a farm, Richard didn't hesitate. They were in sync from the start, they said, but neither had any experience farming, so getting started took some effort and a bit of help.

"We got to know the people at Clemson Extension very well," Rickie said.

They come out to the farm regularly to check out the soil and drainage, and make sure everything is going well, Richard said. And the Goldbergs drop by the extension office to get information about new programs.

They've also gotten good advice from other growers in the area, as well as some of the folks they sell to and others across the world who share their experiences on the Internet.

"You learn what you have to learn," Richard said. "With the Internet, if you take the time, there's not a question you can't answer or an experience you can't glean from someone else."

The first steps in getting the farm going were purchasing a tractor and getting the property registered as a farm with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Learning to operate the tractor safely was among the biggest challenges.

"It was high tension for a while, but we've pretty much got the hang of it now," Richard said. "At least we learned not to kill each other hooking up the implements. I wouldn't want to be calling her family and telling them I squashed her head with the Bush Hog."

Richard and Rickie share work on the farm, but many of the day-to-day tasks are left to Rickie. Richard is also a boat captain and works during the day operating the Coastal Carolina University research boat. He also has back problems that limit the activities he can do on the farm.

"She has to do some of the stuff I normally would do, like picking the butter beans," Richard said.

He describes Rickie as the "hardest-working woman" he’s ever known.

"You've heard of people getting up with the chickens? Well, she's up two or three hours before the chickens," Richard said.

He recalled one night when he woke up around 4 a.m. to find his wife already hard at work outside splitting logs for firewood.

"She's skinny and slight, but that's the strongest woman," Richard said, casting his wife an admiring glance.

In every word and look that passes between the couple, it's plain to all that the Goldbergs are absolutely smitten with each other. Both say they've never been happier, not only because they have each other, but because farm life agrees with them.

"It is a lot of work, but it's fun and it's good exercise," Richard said. "I've never been healthier in my life."

It's always interesting, too, Rickie added. She said she loves being outside, digging in the dirt and seeing the results of her efforts, which normally begin at 4 a.m. with getting the morning paper and walking the dogs. At 5, she leaves a cup of coffee for Richard on the night stand by the bed and by 6, she's outside, hard at work in one of the gardens.

Rickie also hosts an exercise boot camp for a small group of women on weekday mornings at the farm.

Richard said if he and Rickie ever argue, it's because she’s doing too much and he's trying to get her to take a break. But it's clear they both have a passion for the work they do on the farm.

And they're planning to do more of it in the near future, putting more of the land to use.

While the Goldbergs said they're going to stop growing peas, because there is too much work for too little reward, they're going to add in other items, starting with decorative gourds this fall.

They're also planning to have a field of lavender, which they may press for oil, and they're working on farming crawfish in a pond on the property. They said they threw some of the crustaceans in, hoping they'd breed, and haven’t seen any since, so they aren’t sure how that will turn out.

"It's an experiment," Richard said.

For information about True Blue Farms, call 237-3177.

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