Photos courtesy of the Ag + Art Tour
Experience the connection between agricultural and art with an award-amassing tour in South Carolina.
For some people, rural life is a throwback to a bygone era. For others, rural life should be cherished and nurtured as an integral part of the 21st century. For everyone, however, rural life is a must-have experience – especially when it’s combined with the arts.
On seven weekends in May and June, people can get a firsthand glimpse of farm life and art creation during the annual South Carolina Ag + Art Tour. Visitors will have the opportunity to see where their food comes from, watch artists in action, enjoy the talents of local musicians and learn about rural life.
“The tour has taken South Carolina by storm,” says Will Culler, the Ag + Art Tour director and a Clemson University senior extension agent. “It has been going on for 12 years, and the momentum has been building. A lot of people want to see what South Carolina agriculture and heritage is all about.”
As the largest free, self-guided farm and art tour in the nation, the event has attracted more than 45,000 people since it began in York County in 2012. Growing every year, the tour has expanded to 11 counties with the addition of Aiken and Sumter counties to 2023 schedule.
“Aiken County is a rich agricultural community,” says Walter Curry, the county’s Ag + Art Tour chairman. “Aiken County is known for horses, but Aiken County also has a rich art history. People here support the agricultural and arts communities.”
Culler says the majority of Ag + Art visitors are young families and seniors who bring their grandchildren. However, he says the tour attracts all generations.
“Agritourism in its essence is a great experience,” says Culler. “People are looking for authentic experiences. They love to take pictures and selfies of themselves doing the activities to post on social media.”
Something for Everyone
With 119 sites on the award-winning tour, visitors can explore agritourism farms, farmers’ markets, feed stores, agricultural museums, food trucks and produce stands in a range of diverse settings.
For instance, Chester County is halfway between Charlotte, North Carolina and Columbia, South Carolina – two of the Southeast’s fastest growing cities, while Colleton County is the gateway to the Lowcountry.
Although it has agrarian roots, Richland County is home to more than 400,000 residents and serves as the Palmetto State’s legislative hub. Newberry County is the egg, dairy and timber capitol of South Carolina.
Sites on the tour include livestock, cut flower, produce, homesteading, sheep, goat, U-pick berry and peach farms; bison ranches; milling companies and wineries.
Participating artisans consist of painters, potters, weavers, quilters, woodworkers, metalworkers, acoustic musicians, bakers, value-added producers and more.
“Agriculture and tourism are two of our biggest industries, but agriculture was here before tourism,” Culler says. “Agritourism started taking off in the 1980s. We’re a small state that has a big agricultural lifestyle.”
For those who want to visit places close to home, Aiken County will open 14 sites to tourists. They include Aiken Center for the Arts; Aiken County Farmers Market; Aiken Horse Park; Bettis Academy; Boondock Farms; Center for African American History, Art & Culture; Dupont Planetarium; Eudora Farms; Herb n Berries U-Pick Blueberry Farm; Jenks Farmer’s Flower Farm; New Ellenton Farmers Market; Proveaux Plantation; Southerlee Farm and Trusty Farms.
“We targeted farm sites that are doing active tourism,” says Curry. “We also connected with farms that are in the business of promoting agriculture and art.”
The variety of sites on the Ag + Art Tour, whose accolades include recognition as a Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 Event, extends across the state as well.
At Gypsy Wind Farms in Fairfield County, for instance, visitors can see Barbados Blackbelly sheep and Mangalitsa pigs. The farm also features a petting area, sawmill activities and walking trails. An onsite store is stocked with meats, soaps and other products from the farm.
The FARM 1780 in Lexington County is an eighth-generation family farm that features blueberries, muscadines, figs, blackberries, three acres of seasonal produce and livestock.
Goat Daddy’s Farm is an animal sanctuary and educational dairy farm in Kershaw County.
At Tatanka Bison Ranch in York County, 10 specially selected artisans will demonstrate their crafts. The ranch also will include food trucks, an authentic 26-foot teepee and Native American demonstrations.
“Rural life is South Carolina. Rural life is America,” Curry says. “About 80 percent of this state is rural.”
Making a Game Plan
With so much to see and do across the state, visitors should develop a game plan before they set out on the tour. For starters, maps and a list of participating sites are available at agandarttour.com.
When choosing sites to visit, however, people should be aware that they can’t see everything in one day. While some sites will open Saturday and Sunday, others will open only on Saturday.
Visitors can start at any site, and they should bring a cooler to transport the fresh fruits and veggies they pick up at the farms.
“People typically spend one to two hours at each farm,” Culler says. “It can take all day to go to four or five farms.”
Farmers will be on hand to give tours, answer questions and show what they do on a daily basis. In addition, each farm is encouraged to provide at least two demonstrations, guided tours or activities on Saturday and one on Sunday.
Activities include kid friendly hayrides and pony rides, and farmers and artisans will demonstrate their crafts. While admission to the sites is free, there may be a charge for food, beverages and some activities. The experience, however, is priceless.
“The purpose is to connect agriculture and art and make a contribution to the local rural and urban economy, focusing on agriculture,” says Curry. “I would like for tourists to come out and have fun and enjoy the connection between art and agriculture. I want them to get a sense of the deep contribution of agriculture in our state and foster an appreciation of agriculture and the arts in Aiken County and South Carolina.”
The tour will take place rain or shine, but sites may close if there is a threat of severe weather.
“Rural life is peace, nature, family. There are so many things that can describe it,” Curry says. “We need to support and preserve rural life. Everything we want – peace, family connections, agriculture, the arts – are ever-present in rural life. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of rural life.”
For more information visit agandarttour.com
2023 Ag + Art Tour Schedule:
• Saturdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
• Sundays 1 p.m.-5 p.m.
By Morgan Davis