BOILING SPRINGS — Tyler Hughey got his start in farming as a child, helping his Papa Ken sell peaches, strawberries and watermelons. Back then, Tyler didn’t see the allure of the market or farm work. His papa was persistent in having his grandchildren come along to help.
“If you didn’t want to go to the market, you went anyway,” Tyler, 20, said with a grin.
But farming is in Tyler’s blood. Tyler’s family has been growing peaches in Boiling Springs since the 1950s and lives on his great-grandfather Berry Hughey’s land in Chesnee, where they raise cattle and grow hay. Berry Hughey died June 14 at age 101. He broke his back loading hay when he was 88.
“If it hadn’t been for that, my daddy said he would have still been out there, working,” Tyler said.
Most South Carolina peach farmers today, like the Hughey family, are third or fourth generation, said Amy London, director of the S.C. Peach Council. She said often, the children of the youngest generation work another career first before farming.
“But then they come back to the farm,” London said. “They come back to their roots.”
At the Hughey Farms produce stand on Asheville Highway in June, Tyler looked over a bin of peaches, just in.
“These have got a good flavor to them, but there’s not as many as we’d like to have,” Tyler said. “They taste good, but there’s not much of a crop.”
A couple of March nights when the temperature dropped to 29 degrees hurt the Hughey’s peach crop this year. Tyler and Ken Hughey estimate that about 30 percent of the crop survived.
In a good year, the state’s 14,000 acres of peaches yield cash in excess of $70 million, London said. This year, farmers have lost $30 million statewide.
“It was a pretty devastating couple of hours,” London said, referring to the freezes.
Even when the crop is lost, peach farmers still have to care for the trees, pruning, watering and fertilizing.
“Peaches are risky,” London said. “There is no federal assistance or subsidies for them. As a result, farmers have diversified, growing other produce and doing agro-tourism, holding events at the farm.”
The Hugheys are now growing an abundance of produce, about 30 acres or so, in addition to about 50 acres of peaches (and don’t worry, there will be peaches until mid-September). The family opened the produce stand 5 years ago, and business has picked up by 20 percent each year, Tyler said.
“A lot of that could be the name recognition,” Tyler said. “We used to do a lot more wholesale. We used to focus on peaches but do more vegetables. We like the staying local part a lot better.”
In his pickup truck with a Clemson paw and “No Farms, No Food” stickers on the back window, Tyler rides out to check on the crops on Buck Seay Road. The watermelons and pumpkins are doing well. The pumpkins, 7 acres worth, will be harvested in September and stored in a barn until October.
Other produce on the farm includes corn, cantaloupe, squash and pickling cucumbers.
“Cucumbers grow like crazy,” Tyler said. “You’ve got to pick them every day. We do everything by hand, the harvesting and planting. It’s not like soybeans or wheat, where you can combine everything.”
Tyler looks up from cucumber picking and sees his grandparents – his grandmother, Linda, and Papa Ken driving up. Ken Hughey lost a lung to cancer, requires an oxygen tank and can’t get out into the fields like he used to.
“He rides around, checking everything,” Tyler said. “He’ll fuss at you if things aren’t looking good. And you pretty much have to listen to him because he’s right.”
Linda Hughey pulls over and rolls down the car window.
“What are you watering this morning?” Ken Hughey asks.
The pumpkins and watermelons, Tyler replies.
“Let me see those,” Ken says. Tyler shows his grandfather several perfectly uniform, unblemished cucumbers.
“Those are perfect, right there,” Ken said.
Weeds are a popular conversation topic between Tyler and his grandpa. “He fusses about that every day,” Tyler said with grin.
Tyler hopes to graduate from Clemson this year, a year early, and farm full time. His brother, Ethan, is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and works more on the business side, selling produce for the family.
Tyler’s younger sister, Robyn, is a student at Converse College. All three attended the “Hughey school,” Ken Hughey said, along with their father, Todd, and uncle, Rodney.
“He says he trained all of us,” Tyler said. Papa Ken calls his grandson several times a day to check on the status of the crops.
“If I could, I’d be out there right now,” Ken Hughey said, looking over the quiet, peaceful rows of crops.
He gives his grandson a lot of good-natured ribbing, but is quite proud of the farmer Tyler has become.
“His work ethic is wonderful,” Ken said. “He’s a hustler. He’s an outstanding student. Takes after his grandpa.”
While other students his age might be looking toward office jobs after college, Tyler said he loves the work of the farm. After graduation, he hopes to expand Hughey Farms.
“I like to stay outside,” he said. “I like to never be bored. There’s always something to do.”
“You gotta put up with me,” Ken said.
“That’s probably the hardest part,” Tyler said, without missing a beat.