After a 7 a.m. breakfast at Effingham County High School featuring homemade breakfast casserole made with local eggs and a rainbow of local produce, 50 or so people filed on to a school bus as six pickup trucks convoyed behind, kicking of this year’s Effingham County Young Farmers’ Tour.
Dr. Freddie Waltz, advisor for the local Georgia Young Farmers’ Association and for the FFA, was all smiles for his 14th year coordinating the tour.
“We encourage FFA to come out and for our members to bring their younger (family members), if they have any, because we think of it as a great sort of family activity,” said Waltz.
Ace Herring’s newly relocated Landscaper’s Depot on Goshen Road was the first stop of six focusing on industry players from south Effingham. Then, the group made their way to Truit’s Tree Farm, where even in the heavy August heat, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
In the field of teardrop evergreens, Truit Zipperer and his staff tend to hundreds of Leyland and Murray cypress, dotted by fragrant blue ice cypress. Workers clip mussed treetops, as Zipperer straps into a contrivance called a SAJE tree trimmer made specifically for pruning Christmas trees.
“You can prune about a thousand trees on two tanks of gas,” said Zipperer.
Strapped in the SAJE trimmer, Zipperer resembles a one-man band street performer, as an 8-foot saw dangles in front of him and he steers from handlebars connected to the saw.
“This is an extremely dangerous piece of equipment,” said Lamar Zipperer, Truit’s father.
Then, Zipperer explained how frost reduces chlorophyll in the trees, and shows the crowd how his contraption — a tank with tall tube sprayers — paints the trees back to the dark color they were originally.
After a quick stop by the Pioneer Corn Plot, the tour made its way to see Gene Hart’s Bermuda Grass Digging and Sprigging. Hart’s operation offers two services, quality rolls of hay for horses and large scale grass planting. If a farmer wants to convert his field into a grazing field, or if a there is a new golf course needing perfect green fairways, Hart is the man to see.
“If I cut my hand, I’ll bleed green,” said Hart.
Next, the tour past in for a local treat from Mueller’s Restaurant and Catering with Chef Nick Mueller. Freshly boiled Georgia peanuts steam from a glass bowl as folks spoon them into biodegradable trays and sip away at iced tea.
For about seven years this business has been tucked away off Kessler Loop, offering a quaint, charming atmosphere unlike anything in the county. Mueller is a part of the “slow food” and the “farm to table” movements that advocate buying locally grown food directly from the producers, eating seasonal produce and avoiding processed foods.
“Whatever makes you happy and excited you about food, we’ll do,” he said.
His kitchen can cater up to 1,000 and his reservation-only restaurant atop his kitchen, called The Laughing Boar, seats about 24-30 including the patio and is decorated almost entirely with items from local shops and artists,
“We’ve been very blessed, so we believe you should use your talents to help your community,” said Mueller, mentioning working with Second Harvest and offering to teach culinary skills to local FFA chapters.
Finally, the Young Farmers caravan found itself at Larry Redmond’s Bahia Grass Harvesting and Cotton Crop at Shiloh Farms. Redmond has a patent on a specific strain of bahia developed by the University of Georgia, which offers farms a longer grazing season. Selling mostly in Florida and Texas, Redmond’s fields produce more bahia seed than anyone in the U.S. He uses a mammoth machine to vacuum up the seeds worth well over $200,000 to separate the seeds from the grass without cutting it.
“The poorer the dirt, the better the crop,” said Redmond.
Thus ending the annual Young Farmers’ tour, as participants coming back for their 10th and 20th tours and some of their first wound back to ECHS.