Sandlapper Society

McLeod Farms

Mac's Pride

by Marsha Hewitt

Kemp McLeod knows every one of his peach trees— all 90,000 of them. As he drives from field to rolling field, he keeps up a nonstop, fascinating chatter about varieties, planting, pruning, irrigation, fruit quality, showy versus non-showy blooms, soils and field rotation. One would think he had nothing else on his mind.

Actually, peaches are only one component (albeit the major one) of McLeod Farms in McBee. Kemp's hands-on style carries over into their row crops (wheat and soybeans) as well as the never-ending succession of fresh produce. Beginning with juicy red strawberries in March, the farm also produces tomatoes, onions (sweet McBee onions— like Vidalias, but local), cucumbers, sweet corn, green peas, cabbage, kale, collards, red and white potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, okra, cantaloupes, watermelons and grapes. Whew! If you can't find it here, it probably doesn't grow in South Carolina.

In addition to nearly 30 varieties of peaches, the farm boasts one of the nicest fresh local markets in the state. What started as a roadside shed for fresh peaches has evolved into a huge retail store complete with an adjacent restaurant, a large selection of vegetables and fruits harvested daily, fresh-baked goods, jarred products made from local produce, gift baskets and gift items. Don't forget the ice cream and peach desserts made fresh daily.

Mac's Pride is also known for strawberries— about 20 acres of ripe, juicy berries are picked from March through May. The young plants are planted individually, watered every two to three days and picked by hand. Folks are encouraged to bring their families and pick their own tasty berries, or they can buy them already picked. "We tell people to pick them when they're fire-engine red," Kemp said. The redder the berry, the sweeter it is.

The farm's annual Strawberry Festival is held the weekend after Mother's Day. During spring, thousands of schoolchildren are invited to tour the farm. Not only do they pick their own berries and enjoy a sample of strawberry ice cream while they hear about life on a farm, but they also get coloring books to take home. "That encourages the parents to bring the children back at other times," explained Kemp's wife, Gaie, who oversees the tours. Berry season continues with blackberries and blueberries in the summer.

McLeod Farms Annual Peach Festival takes place in early to mid-July when an abundant supply of fresh succulent peaches is available. Orchard tours and a recipe contest are popular events. Peach Enchiladas, a recipe contest winner from a few years ago, have been added to the menu at the market.

The annual Pumpkin Festival is held in October and features loads of fun activities including wagon rides through 10 acres of pumpkins where folks can pick their own pumpkins, kids activities and exploring a custom-designed corn maze. Pumpkin "chunking" gives the crowds a thrill as pumpkins are tossed high in the air by a giant sling.

As if the fresh local produce weren't enough, McLeod Farms is also home to Big's Meats and More Restaurant. Owned by Kemp's sister, Beth Watford, the restaurant has become one of the most popular spots in the county for fresh, homemade food. Daily specials include seasonal vegetables and desserts, and Beth turns out a mean hamburger and awesome chicken salad for somewhat lighter appetites. Even the peach lemonade is homemade. And the baked goods! Let's just say you won't come away empty-handed and you'll never be disappointed in the quality of the food.

Beth's initial idea was to provide superior meat to supplement the fresh vegetables grown on the farm. Then she began offering frozen vegetable casseroles. "With the meat and the produce from next door you could feed your family," she explained. The casseroles proved wildly popular, as did the Black Canyon Angus beef, and eventually Beth found herself running a full-service restaurant.

The location of Mac's Pride between McBee and Hartsville is important, since Hwy. 151 is a popular route to the beach. The McLeod Market is open seven days a week and the restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday, so hungry travelers and tourists find plenty to eat— and to do— in this rural setting.

Another unexpected bonus for visitors is the Antique Museum. Started by Kemp's father, Campbell McLeod, the immaculate warehouse boasts vintage cars and farm implements, as well as interesting artifacts from years gone by. Delight in the perfectly restored antique cars, like a glossy 1930 Lincoln that practically speaks for itself, a spiffy 1952 Packard, a 1930 pickup that looks like a touring car and a host of others. Admire an 1885 organ or listen to early versions of hymns played on hand-turned spindles. The 1910 farm truck may be the oldest vehicle, but all of these antiques, including an impressive array of farm tractors and equipment, make this museum dedicated to "Life on the Farm" one of a kind.

Back on the farm, Kemp supervises everything from the packing shed to planting, plowing and irrigation. Since fresh fruits and vegetables are labor-intensive, he hires seasonal workers to hand-pick the tender fruits. Peaches are picked every day with the utmost care— bruised fruit just won't do.

Since peach trees have a productive life span of 15 to 20 years, there are always young trees to be nurtured, older ones to coddle and mature ones to prune, irrigate, spray and harvest. Although harvesting of peaches extends from late May until September, nurturing is nearly a year-round job. Each of the 90,000 trees on more than 700 acres must be hand-pruned each winter and hand-picked during harvest season.
 
Started in 1916, the farm has grown with each generation— Kemp is the fourth— and the 5,000-acre operation continues to diversify. Gaie and Kemp met at Clemson, where their youngest son Spencer is now a senior. When he returns to work in the family business, he'll be the fifth generation at McLeod Farms.

"Farming— you love it or leave it," Kemp summed up. There's a lot of love at Mac's Pride. 

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For more information visit macspride.com. This article sponsored by Arbor One Farm Credit.

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