Small Georgia farm provides produce for many local restaurants.
Story by Robyn Passante + Photos by Ansley West Rivers
When savvy entrepreneurs identify a demand for which there is limited supply, success can come quick and easy. When Canewater Farm owner Rafe Rivers saw such a demand – for organic produce grown close to coastal Georgia residents and restaurants – he set out to provide the bounty.
It was anything but quick and easy.
“We bought 50 acres, and zero were ready to plant,” says Rivers, who grew up in Atlanta and had no interest in working the soil until a sustainable agriculture class at the University of Georgia sparked his passion for farming.
About 18 acres of the coastal Lowcountry land had produce potential – once the stands of slash pines were timbered, roots and stumps were removed and the acreage was cover-cropped to begin cultivating a richer soil, that is.
Rivers and his wife, Ansley, were undaunted by the challenge; their Georgia roots (Ansley’s family owns property in north Georgia where the couple raised Ossabaw hogs and make cornmeal and other organic grain products) pulled them back from California to build a life and a company on the Southeast coast.
This year the farm will produce a diverse mix of veggies on nearly 10 acres; he and his team planted 25 different crops in spring 2018 alone.
“We don’t have crop insurance; our insurance is our diversity. Every year something has issues, but if we have 30 different crops and three of them do bad, we have others to take their place,” Rivers says. But that business tactic is as much a personal choice as it is a professional one. “We love eating in season. I want to feed my family, too, from our farm, and I like seeing different things coming up at different times of year.”
Canewater’s crop diversity and its certified organic label has made it a hit with residents and restaurants in Georgia and South Carolina. Chef Clayton Rollison, who owns Lucky Rooster on Hilton Head, persuaded Rivers to sell his produce to the island, banding together with other chefs on Hilton Head and in Bluffton to bring enough business to Rivers for it to make it worth his time.
“With Rafe, he grows really clean, good vegetables. Not only is he a great farmer, but he’s really good at running his business,” Rollison says. “Rafe thinks outside the box a little bit, he’s willing to take risks and grow some unusual things. And he’s willing to take some chances and work with people and get some diversity on the plate.”
Rollison says the freshness of Canewater’s produce gives chefs more for their money than they often get.
“You get to utilize more of the products and showcase more diversity to the dish,” says Rollison, who describes Canewater’s turnip tops as “freakin’ delicious” and makes a carrot vinaigrette using their carrot tops. “The tops of vegetables are always tasty, but half the time when they come from larger suppliers, they’re four or five days old, so they’re not as good.”
Rivers says the informal partnerships he’s developed with chefs like Rollison make his job even more satisfying.
“I like working with the chefs because they do really beautiful things with (our produce). It’s really rewarding to see a family come and eat the food that we grew and picked the day before.”
For a list of what Canewater Farm is currently growing, visit www.canewaterfarm.com.