Resurrecting the Family Farm

Resurrecting the Family Farm

How one South Carolina chef is continuing a farming legacy

Words by Nicole Letts
Photos by Ari Skin


Christine Smith is a Korean-Greek American. As the daughter of a military parent, Christine often found herself moving from place to place, soaking in global cuisine as she went. When she and her husband, Jacob, took over his family's 100-plus-year-old South Carolina farm once owned by his cotton-seed-record-holding grandfather, Christine saw it as an opportunity to plant more than just roots. The Smiths embarked on working the land to grow and harvest everything from eggplant to tomatoes, which in turn led her to sink her teeth into her own restaurant, Christine's Farm to Fork. 

Self-taught, Christine focuses on foods from her past, each telling a story of a special place. There's a gyro platter, a nod to her Greek ancestors (her grandfather owned and operated a restaurant in Buffalo, New York after immigrating); beef bulgogi, her mother's recipe; and crab cakes to honor her time in Maryland. The restaurant sits in Edgefield, South Carolina, population 2,375. Edgefield has a storied past that includes being the birthplace of 10 South Carolina governors, as well as the home of the prolific and rebellious David Drake, or “Dave the Potter,” a formerly enslaved man whose defiant act of writing on a jug solidified his place in history. Today, Christine is stirring a stockpot of flavor, creating her own place in Edgefield's narrative. 

You don’t have a typical background in farming. How did you know what to do to get started?

We did a lot of reading. You have to do your homework. In the first season, we planted 6,000 tomato plants in 20 varieties because we wanted to see what worked. Who starts a restaurant at 50? I don't know, but I love it. I really did this because of my boys. This was a family effort, a family venture. We all keep growing, trying to improve, and eventually, find our niche. 

Your husband's from the area. How are you finding it to be as a newcomer? 

We’re all town ambassadors for each other. Some places would think, “Oh, if the new restaurant opens, that's going to take away our business.” When in reality, it's bringing more people. 

How would you describe the menu at the restaurant?

This is our food journey, and we want to share our food journey with everybody. Nothing comes out of the can. Everything is made from scratch. Everything is cooked to order. Nothing is precooked. 

Do you get to enjoy what you're producing, and what you're doing? 

My boys, Jacob and Jared, cook here every night, and I maintain the front of the house, but I do get to enjoy what they’re preparing. I always give the boys feedback on what can be better, and I think that’s an important role. The boys started cooking for the family restaurant at 21 and 19, respectively. They are not [technically] culinary trained but have instead learned from consulting chefs over the past few years. Not to mention, they’re following in the steps of both of their great grandfathers, both by working on their family lands and cooking for their family restaurant. I'm truly one proud mom of what my sons have accomplished. 

Your menu is filled with staples, but you also incorporate seasonal specials that rotate weekly. How do you develop those dishes?

When I think about the weekly specials, I think about a husband and wife coming in for a meal. I want the entrees to be different but for the flavors to complement each other. That way, it's OK to take a few bites and share with each other, but one palate is not going to be ruined. 

How have you gotten involved in the community?

We work with other family farms such as Titan Farms, Big Smile Peaches, Hickory Hill Milk, JCQ Farms, and YON Family Farm. Raising my vegetables and working in conjunction with so many local farms helps me differentiate myself. I'm looking forward to incorporating markets in other neighboring communities in the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA). Additionally, every 3rd Saturday here in Edgefield, local vendors hold a market on the square. As a group, we select a nonprofit that provides services to our local community. We have raised thousands of dollars for Women in Unity, South Carolina Hooves and Paws, American Legion Post 30, and Toys for Tots.  It's all about serving our community. 

You also have a small inn, right? 

It's more of a “when the stars align” place because it’s my home. It's something that I don't have to rent out every night, but I like to have it as an option. When I have guests who are eating dinner, and then I see they're on the phone, desperately trying to find something, I’m able to host them. 

Tell me about your logo.

Back in the 70s and 80s, my father-in-law had 3,000 acres full of peaches that filled our family farm. When I was trying to come up with the name and the logo, I wanted to incorporate a little homage to him. Then there’s me on the tractor. I wanted to keep it simple but communicate what it is that I was trying to tell about my story. 

What's in store for year three of Christine’s Farm to Fork?

I keep the farm going—keep growing and keep selling. On Wednesdays and Fridays, I sell at the VA hospital in downtown Augusta. On Thursday nights I’m selling at a community center in downtown Augusta. On Saturday mornings, I'm at the downtown river walk at the farmer’s market. Last summer was the busiest time that I've had. I’m trying to continue to market myself. So, that way, when people buy a bag of peaches, get a bucket of strawberries, or pick up squashing zucchini, they know me and my product. Then they get to come here and experience this place. Once they do that, they realize I’m just Chris, the produce girl from the parking lot.