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Markets: The Ripe Stuff

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Rickie Goldberg gets up with the chickens. Really.

She has about 50 free range chickens at True Blue Farms, her place off Tyson Drive, and she lets them out of their coop to run around the yard when she’s out gardening in the cool air before sunrise.

True Blue Farms sells free range eggs, cut flowers and a variety of seasonal vegetables in a market that is looking for more and more fresh, local foods.

“I wanted to see if I could grow something,” Goldberg said. “I love working in the dirt and always wanted a farm.”

Her husband, Richard, had horses on the property when they were married, and Rickie immediately began picturing where her vegetable gardens would go. Richard gives her a hand when his job as head of Coastal Carolina University’s fleet of research vessels allows.

“Gardening is a passion of mine,” Rickie said. “My grandmother instilled it in me as a young child. I love it. I love producing something that somebody can take home and make into a great meal.”

She calls True Blue Farms a best kept secret. The entrance is off the portion of Tyson that was closed when a new intersection with Highway 17 was built. It’s far enough off the beaten path that the Goldbergs watch for hawks over the chicken lot and put the hens and two roosters up at night for protection against other critters.

The last sunflowers in a thinning patch greet drive-in visitors. They don’t get far until they are greeted by three dogs running in the chicken yard. This summer True Blue has produced blackberries, okra, crowder peas, eggplant, tomatoes and cucumbers this summer. June’s heavy rain caused Rickie to pick her heirloom tomatoes while they were still green to keep them from splitting open and losing their cachet. Customers at Chive Blossom, Louis’s at Sanfords and the Pelican Inn probably didn’t know, or care, that they were eating fried green heirloom tomatoes. Her summer garden is down to okra and crowder peas. Once those are gone, it will be time for fall greens to be planted.

“We are not organic,” Rickie said, “because I’m not going through the regulations. We’re all natural. I use some white vinegar as a weed killer, but mostly I’m on my hands and knees pulling weeds or running the tiller.”

Rickie said her best customer is Corinne Taylor at the Pelican Inn on Pawleys Island. Guests are provided breakfast and lunch. “We call Rickie before we go shopping,” Taylor said. “We plan our menus around what we get from local farmers. We’ll even change our menus. Rickie had blackberries, and we made a blackberry-peach cobbler. It’s wonderful to be able to serve guests things that were in the field an hour or two ago. Farm-to-table is part of our draw with visitors.”

Taylor said she liked True Blue Farm eggs for baking because of the higher fat content.

Rickie said she’s considering a big okra crop next summer. “It’s grass,” she said. “You can’t hurt it.” Lee’s Farmers Market at Murrells Inlet will take all she grows.

“I may work on some lavender,” she said. “Every year, I’m playing.”

Mary Beth Pope is in her fourth season of running a vegetable stand at the corner of Alston and Highway 17. She promotes organic with a passion.

“We’re local, seasonable and sustainable,” she said. “Once they try it, they stick with it. Customers like the quality of the product they get.”

Pope said she has a personal relationship with every farmer providing her stand with produce. She’s not averse to making a change when necessary. Her peaches this year are from McBee, rather than her usual suppliers in Conway and Aynor.

“It’s important for people to understand where their food comes from,” she said. “The only way to support farmers is to pay more for the products.”

Mary Beth stays open through October and takes a short break before converting to Christmas trees and wreaths.

Field grown tomatoes from John’s Island were going for $1.79 a pound at Kings, a fruit and vegetable stand on Highway 17. “It’s pretty important to our customers that everything is local,” said operator Ryan McNutt. Customer Becky Davis was looking over a big pile of tomatoes. She buys for home and use at the Pawleys Island Tavern.

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