Steve Upson, a soils and crops consultant and greenhouse guru, approached me about a farm visit he thought would intrigue me. I happily accepted his invitation, and the next day I climbed into a Suburban with him and his wife, Jeannie. We drove deep into the Sulphur countryside and turned onto a gravel driveway lined with free-range guinea fowl. Steve was right. I was intrigued.
We drove slowly enough up the path so the birds could scatter and arrived at a house central to several hoop houses. A young man appeared from behind the home, and Steve introduced him as Adam Seiler, the brains behind this operation.
Adam and Steve began to chat about various agronomic topics such as drip irrigation, powdery mildew and hoop house design for optimal wind protection. He explained to me that the guinea fowl were there to consume grasshoppers that masticate his leafy greens and that he's seen a 70 percent decline in grasshopper damage since he first introduced the birds. It soon became apparent to me how brilliant and well-versed this guy was. Adam knew more about soil chemistry, plant pathology and resource management than most college grads.
Myself, astounded, had to ask, "Adam, where do you go to school?" Adam told me that he was completely self-taught, and his inspiration for agriculture sprouted when he stumbled upon a Black & Decker gardening book in his Meemaw's garage at age 14. Adam, his sister Aubrey, his tía Vivian and his dad, Ricky, manage BetterTogether with help from his grandparents, Elias and Amelia Lopez (better known as Bito and Bita).
We toured the 2 acres that make up BetterTogether Farm, and I was speechless - not only because of the diverse array of picturesque produce, but because of how well integrated this operation was. They had a washing, weighing and packaging station, as well as a cooler engineered from used insulation and a hot-wired window air conditioning unit. As we munched on carrots we had just picked, Adam showed me the BetterTogether website and app, which make purchasing produce effortless.
Adam is an inspiration to the novice agronomist. He admits it's hard work, but he takes much pride in providing organic, local and nutritious produce to his community. Adam and his family are such kind, generous and humble people that it's no surprise that their motto is "nuestra finca es tu finca" - our farm is your farm.
Helen Holstein is a 2014 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture from Monetta, South Carolina. Currently she is a senior at Clemson University majoring in soils and sustainable crop systems with a concentration in agricultural biotechnology.