by Stephanie Campbell, CFSA’s Outreach Coordinator
“Seven years ago my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer,” shares Will Metts of Metts Organix in Greenwood, SC. “He passed away in February, 2016, at the age of 58. He is the reason why I’m farming today. And he is the reason I’m farming organically.”
Will’s dad, Bill Metts, grew up on the family’s conventional farm in the 1960s and 1970s. The conventional practices included lots of chemical herbicides and pesticides. Bill spent his youth working in the fields, often in clouds of these chemicals. While the link between these products and prostate cancer has not been proven, higher rates of prostate cancer have been shown in farming communities, and Bill believed his cancer was related to his exposure to the chemical sprays.
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By the time Will was born, the Metts family was no longer financially able to farm the land. Will also grew up on the land, but during these years, the 100 acres were given over to wildlife and to hay production. Will went to college at Lander University in Greenwood as an Economics-Finance major. It was his senior year when his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to use chemicals,” says Will.
“I had always told Dad there should be a way we could return the land to farming,” Will says. “I knew I wanted to farm but I didn’t know how.” With his father’s encouragement, Will put that Econ-Finance major to work and developed a farm business plan. Turning the land back into farmland wasn’t easy, especially using organic practices. “I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to use chemicals,” says Will. “I did a ton of research on organic practices, companion plants, beneficial insects, and soil health.”
Will started developing the farm in the fall of 2011 by planting a field of Daikon radish and purple top turnips because their extremely long, strong roots (up to 24 inches deep) are a natural way to open up the soil. In the following spring, with a loan from the Farm Services Agency, he tilled the land and began growing. Like many young beginning farmers, Will worked full-time during the day and farmed full-time at night and on weekends.
In 2015, Will was able to quit his day job and farm full time. “It takes a whole support team to be able to do what we do as farmers,” says Will. “The workshops and programs of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), the New and Beginning Farmers program at Clemson, and the network of agricultural professionals and resources in the Carolinas have been essential for me.”
“For me, it’s not all about profit or money, but rather peace of mind. Am I providing the healthiest food for my community and producing it in a way which is healthiest for the land?”
With the technical assistance of CFSA, Will was able to develop an organic Conservation Activity Plan (CAP-138) for his farm which provided lots of practical learning, as well as access to funding for practices which will improve his production and increase the biodiversity of the farm. “Increasing the biodiversity of the farm is my number one goal,” says Will, “because this is what will improve the wildlife, the soil, and the environment for generations to come. One of the commitments I’ve made is to devote at least 10% of my gardens to habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects.”
Creating a profitably sustainable farm that provides as much good for the community as it possibly can is Will’s overarching purpose. That Econ-Finance background shows up again when Will shares that his strongest advice to other new farmers: make sure the market for products is there first. “I will not plant anything until I know it is already sold or dedicated to a particular sale. Extras then go to the farmers’ market.”
Will got married last November and a friend gave the couple two goats as a wedding gift, helping to jump start their plans to increase the biodiversity of the farm by incorporating livestock. They have since added chickens and rabbits. The chickens work for the farm by providing rich manure and cultivating compost into the beds. “Following the chickens with months of cover crop and then planting the market garden provides rich soil and incredible biodiversity,” says Will.
Up until two months ago, Will did all of this farming on his own. In March of 2017, he was able to bring a full-time employee onto the farm. With four acres of market garden under production (and an updated business plan!), Will knows that the two of them will be able to increase the efficiency, use of space, and production of the farm. Metts Organix grows a wide variety of vegetables and herbs and sells at the Greenwood Uptown Market and to restaurants.
This farmer, steeped in Econ-Finance and business planning, sums up his farming: “For me, it’s not all about profit or money, but rather peace of mind. Am I providing the healthiest food for my community and producing it in a way which is healthiest for the land?”
You can find Will and Metts Organix at the Greenwood, SC, Uptown Market. And you can visit the farm on June 10th or 11th as part of the Uptown Market Upstate Farm Tour.