Agri-tourism industry in York County continues to grow

dworthington@heraldonline.comMay 12, 2013 

Julie Whitted could have taken her children, Atticus, 4, and Cecilia, 7, to play with dinosaurs or Snoopy and his pals. They also could have ridden planes, trains, balloons or roller coasters – a thrill every second.

Mom, after all, is the public relations director for Carowinds.

But last week mother and children opted for a slower pace, carefully dodging fire ant hills while pulling clumps of grass, which Atticus and Cecilia gingerly pushed through a pasture gate to hungry animals.

“They are fascinated with the farm life,” Julie Whitted said. “They what to know where their food comes from. They would like to live on a farm.” For now, they live in Charlotte.

The trio was at Roe Inman’s farmhouse on S.C. 5, across from Cotton Belt Elementary School.

They were what Inman and others hope are the first of thousands of children who will come to the farm to feed the animals and walk the fields.

More importantly, Roe and others hope the children will learn about the land and what it was like to farm cotton, then peaches, then grapes and finally soybeans – the crops that kept the Inmans and 15 to 20 tenant farmer families housed, clothed and fed for almost 100 years.

At one time the Inman farm had more than 2,000 acres of crops. Tenant farmers used 40 mules to break the ground and pull the wagons in the days before John Deere and Farmall tractors.

Inman Farms will officially open to the public during the second annual York County Ag + Arts tour on June 8-9. The Market at Inman Farms, housed in the peach packing shed that the Inmans built in 1951, is now open. The farm will be open for school tours and guided tours by appointment. Historic interpretations and tenant house tours will be available for pre-scheduled events only.

Last week’s announcements couldn’t have come at a better time, said Eddie Lee, York’s mayor and a Winthrop history professor.

“It is appropriate to open in the springtime,” he said. “It’s the season of renewal, refreshment ... a chance to breathe the aroma of dirt.”

Fritz Gusmer of Wendy Hill Orchards and Cider Mill is Inman’s neighbor. His apple orchard is only a few miles up the road from the Inman farm. The Gusmers were one of the first to try agri-tourism in York County when they opened in the late 1980s. Almost everyone laughed at them, Fritz remembers.

Now, he says, everyone has a tourism component and other valued-added products.

Farming is no longer just plant it, harvest it and go home. If you grow apples or peaches, you pick them, sell them fresh and turn them into pies, cakes, ciders, butters – even ice cream.

Roe Inman, Fritz Gusmer said, has something others don’t – a heritage farm and a stunning, yet simple farmhouse. Inman plans to rent his farmhouse for events such as weddings and meetings.

The Inmans’ farm, however, is just one of number of spots offering agri-tourism tours, especially for children. Fritz Gusmer dresses up as Johnny Appleseed to help educate children. The Bush-N-Vine sometimes has a historic-theme corn maze in the fall.

Bush-n-Vine, the Cotton Hill Farms in Lowrys, Black’s Produce and the Cotton Belt Bakery and Springs Farm in Fort Mill all offer school tours.

Most also offer you-pick options for crops such as apples, berries, peaches and pumpkins.

The Rock Hill/York County Convention & Visitors Bureau is learning to market agri-tourism.

“They all have a great story to tell,” said Sonja Burris, communications manager for the visitors’ bureau. “The Inmans have a great story to tell, a great personal story.”

“We need to interpret history, channel people who worked on the farm. That’s what sells,” she said.

They need to capture the stories of people such as Johnny Crawford, who worked on the Inman farm for more than 25 years. Crawford drove the farm’s trucks and carefully worked the unwieldy machine once used to weed the acres of Concord grapes. He was there for last week’s celebration.

“Only cut three out of 30,000 vines,” Crawford boasted.

Crawford and the other farmers worked sunup to sundown, Monday through Saturday, and then went home to tend to their own chickens, cows, hogs and vegetable patches.

Crawford is excited the Inmans want to tell the farm’s story – their story and his story. “I love it,” Crawford said. “I wish there were more Roe’s around.”

While there were not any more Roe’s around, there were more Inmans. Julia Roper, granddaughter of the one of farm’s founders, Claude Inman, was there last week. Claude’s dad, Elias, bought the house and land in 1893. Claude farmed the land from 1896 to 1938.

“It an adventure, it’s a homecoming,” she said.

Her grandson, Sawyer Inman Hart, was also there. Like the Whitted children, he pulled grass and fed the animals. Then he joined his daddy, Sam, in the seat of a Ford tractor. “He loves tractors,” said his dad.

Then Sam Hunt Hart, who also grew up on the farm and is now an operations technician at the Catawba nuclear plant, repeated the words that so many Inmans have uttered over the years – “Farming, it’s a dying culture.”

He then added the newest twist, noting that “it’s an I-pod, Internet generation. This is a nice opportunity to show children of a different time how hard people had to work.”

Eddie Lee put is more simply: “The Inmans are survivors.”

They, like other farmers, Lee continued, learned the lesson that you “take it one row and a time.”

And that, in its simplest terms, is what Roe Inman, as well as others, hope people take home when they complete their York County agri-tourism tour.

“Taking it one row at a time, that’s a good lesson in life too,” Lee said.

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