June 2020

You Say Tomato, I Say ... Pull Over! Roadside stands in the Lowcountry

Author: Denise K. James | Photographer: M.KAT Photography

In a world where we’ve had to tweak a few of our summer plans, maybe wait a while for that island cruise or that flight to an exotic locale, it’s comforting to know that the warmer months still offer us plenty of things to look forward to—namely an abundance of local fruits and vegetables to brighten our kitchen tables. We’re fortunate to have plenty of produce grown right down the road, as well as friendly faces willing to set up a spot where we can fill our beach bags and baskets. Families and close-knit community members are still working together despite the digital age, and the proof is rarely as apparent as at a roadside stand at the height of summer. Our suggestion? Take a day—or a weekend—visit them all and enjoy your Lowcountry staycation.

King’s Farm Market
2559 Highway SC-174
Edisto Island, SC 29438

A favorite for Edisto visitors, King’s Farm Market has been a tradition for decades, according to Bonnie King, who said her husband’s family has farmed around the island for seven generations. Though the farm started with soybeans, corn, cabbage and potatoes, King and her husband started planting tomatoes when they got married 46 years ago. In 2002, they put up a tent and started selling fresh produce—an immediate hit.

Today, King’s Farm sells a variety of favorites: squash, asparagus, cucumbers, lettuce, snap beans, melons, sweet corn and more. Locals love the sweet corn in the summer (unloaded daily from the wagon) as well as the zinnias and sunflowers grown in the fields, perfect for a vacation centerpiece.

“People like coming to a family-run farm,” King said. “We know what kind of seed we used and when it was planted.”

Besides fresh produce, the family offers other yummy wares such as casseroles, salads, cakes, pies, dips and sandwiches, all made in their on-site commercial kitchen. As King pointed out, you can “stop on the way to the beach and pick up a casserole and a dessert for supper.”

The King family values working with others in the region who offer local products. King is confident that the market will continue to expand and be a platform for these products and said that she, her husband and her son are always seeking out new partners.

“We have a whole section in the market made up of specialty items from South Carolina,” she said.

Foreman Hill Roadside Stand
113 Foreman Hill Road
Bluffton, SC 29910

Foreman Hill Road wasn’t always the paved and bustling corridor it is today, according to Laura Sterling. Now it offers Bluffton locals and visitors a way to venture to her roadside stand and animal rescue, Laura’s Little Critter Barn.

It all started when Sterling, a passionate animal activist, decided her five-acre property would be ideal for a rescue site. In 2018, she also realized a roadside produce stand could fund the animal sanctuary as well as help out area farmers. A native of Allendale County, Sterling grew up knowing about “a lot of little farms” in the center of the state. Though the Foreman Hill Roadside Stand took a hiatus in 2019, Sterling is now ready to reopen in time for summer 2020.

At the stand, she sells everything from tomatoes and corn to okra and blackberries—whatever is in season. She’s excited about growing the project to be a year-round stand and including more than fruits and veggies. For example, the stand’s early visitors raved about the pickled okra, and Sterling wants to continue offering similar local treats. She credits networking with her neighbors for past and future success.

“I found her [the person who made the pickled okra] through good old-fashioned word of mouth, and that’s how I’ll find others,” Sterling said. “That’s the best thing for keeping it local and finding the best customers and vendors.”

Sterling urges all of us to consider outdoor markets a healthy alternative in more ways than one; not only is local produce better for us, but we also can benefit from sunlight and fresh air.

“An outdoor market is a fabulous thing,” she noted. “Outside is where you want to be right now. UV rays kill viruses, and the outdoors doesn’t have recirculated air.”

Dempsey Farms
1576 Sea Island Parkway
St. Helena Island, SC 29920

Growing up, Davey Dempsey watched his father, Davis L. Dempsey, as he carried on with the truck farming his grandfather started in 1936. In 1978, Davey joined the family business to help his dad with 75 acres of cucumbers and more than 100 acres of tomatoes. A roadside produce market was added in the early 1980s and became the cornerstone of the business; commercial shipping for Dempsey tomatoes was soon discontinued. Naturally, locals and visitors to Hunting Island and Fripp Island have benefited from this, and, today, abundant fruits and vegetables are grown on site by Davey Dempsey, his son Warren and, occasionally, his daughter Mary Kathryn. Even Davey’s father, now “a young 84,” continues to help out.

Visitors to the Dempsey Market will find scores of their bestsellers, including U-pick strawberries, tomatoes and peppers. Squash, corn, melons, cucumbers and other vegetables are also available. According to Davey, as many as 15 to 20 farmers markets would frequently buy fruits and vegetables from Dempsey Farms years ago, but these days, it’s just a few markets and an assortment of individuals eager to pick their own summer produce. Nevertheless, the Dempsey family cherishes their family farm as well as the roadside produce stand.

“Since more farmers markets opened up, there are not as many roadside vendors,” Davey noted. “And local laws make it tougher to compete. But there is still a place for roadside stands.”

George and Pink’s Produce
7971 Edingsville Beach Road
Edisto Island, SC 29438

George and Pink’s is another family farm and roadside stand, started by George Brown back in 1972 and serving Edisto Island fresh fruits and vegetables along with a bevy of other homemade goodies ever since. These days, daughter Pink Brown works the produce stand, while her two younger brothers, James and Robert, work in the fields.

Just four and a half miles from Edisto Beach, George and Pink’s gets plenty of traffic from both tourists and locals, though the stand is not visible from the highway. Instead, a sign beckons passersby to venture a half mile down Edingsville Beach Road, where they find themselves richly rewarded. The road is draped with beautiful Southern oaks “like a tunnel,” in the words of Pink, and the produce stand is worth the short detour. In addition to all the favorites, from berries and corn to squash and tomatoes, George and Pink’s offers jams, jellies, relishes, local honey, homemade pies and more. Oh, and boiled peanuts.

“I don’t make all of these products, but they are all local to this area,” Pink said. “We have people who live nearby and want to contribute.”

Pink said she and her family are grateful for the longevity of the business and for the word-of-mouth that keeps patrons returning year after year, especially families.

“We get a lot of family—the children of our older customers,” she said. “Word gets around because we’ve been here a while. We’re always adding new things. But, right now, this works.”

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