GREENVILLE — Were it not for the herd of miniature cows grazing outside John Macomson's office window, you would have no idea the IT engineer had a passion for farming. The 55-year-old entrepreneur has run a successful software firm, Carolina Software as a Service, for the better part of two decades.
The company is now headquartered in a small house-like building on Motlow Creek Ranch, Macomson's 51-acre farm. Macomson's office in a back room is a mess of scattered papers, knickknacks, mint wrappers, and books on both IT (information technology) and craft cider. He pivots between two computers, while outside, the cows roam, a reminder of the two distinct worlds.
Macomson's shift toward farm life began gradually but has gained steam with his foray into beef production and now most recently craft hard cider. Fat Ass Heifer Cidery (more about the name later) is the result of nearly three years of research and work and practice, and now, Macomson and his wife and partner in the venture, Denise, are ready to share their specialty hard ciders and perrys (cider made of pears) with the public.
"Our angle here is you want to sell the experience," Macomson said, citing agritourism statistics and trends.
One day, Macomson envisions, not leaving completely, but stepping away from, IT and moving more into farming. Ironically, it is his experience as an entrepreneur and owner of the IT business that has helped him realize his passion for farming and how to support it.
He is working on adding other elements to the farm like hiking trails and hay rides, and eventually an on-farm restaurant or cafe. Plans call for launching an on-farm dinner series within the next year.
"People have their jobs and then their passions, I think the farming side of thing is more of a passion," said Matthew Hanna, IT manager with Carolina Software, who has known Macomson for 17 years. "Now, he's turning the passion into an entrepreneurial endeavor."
Growing a mountain farm
Growing up on the edge of Boiling Springs, Macomson spent his summers working on farms. He wanted a very different future, or so he thought. He attended Clemson University, where he studied IT, earning an MBA.
He followed a career path that took him to Atlanta, and then to Greenville, launching a successful software company in 1993.
Initially, he purchased the land that is now Motlow Creek Ranch to live. A respite nestled in the mountains.
A mini crisis with the IT company in 2000 pushed him even further toward farming.
"I remember thinking to myself if we ever get into this situation again I'm going to have something I can do by myself," Macomson said. "That's when I started looking into cows."
He settled on Hereford cows for their quality beef.
After some challenges that involved destroyed fences, Macomson refocused on miniature cows. Motlow Creek currently boasts a herd of miniature Hereford, Lowline, and Angus cows, known to produce quality meat, requiring less land to graze and much more manageable.
Over time, the farm has grown. Macomson added 22 acres in 2014. He wanted to get more into farming, but his business savvy also told him he had to have a solid business plan in place, an income stream. That's when, Matthew Hanna recalls, he heard his boss first talk about brewing.
"He's always thinking of the next thing," Hanna said. "He's got that entrepreneurial spirit, he's creative, and it's always interesting.
"What is he gonna get into next?"
From cows to cider
As with the cows, Macomson threw himself into research. Craft beer was appealing, but he didn't really want to create a taproom or bar. When he found craft cider, it spoke to his desire to grow and make products on the farm.
"This is also something families will come to," Macomson said. "It's a tasting room, it's not so much a bar."
Cider is also trending in the U.S. Cider retail sales are 10 times what they were 10 years ago, according to information from the United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM).
Fat Ass Heifer is designated as a farm winery, which means that the cidery will eventually source its fruit for the cider from the farm.
It is the only such cidery in South Carolina. Macomson has already planted 1,600 apple trees, including 40 heirloom variety cider apples. The trees should begin bearing fruit within three years.
Until then, the cidery is sourcing fruit from the most popular cider regions in the country. The product line includes six varieties, enhanced with fruit and other flavors.
Macomson is always experimenting.
Since opening in July, Fat Ass Heifer has already garnered a following. On Saturdays, it's common to find multiple generations of families lounging on the patio, chatting and taking in the relaxing atmosphere over a glass of cider.
Macomson and his family have added small things along the way, board games, snacks, a bocce ball set. Plans for a food component are underway.
For now, Macomson continues to run Carolina Software As a Service, but he is equally focused on growing the farm. Even as he said this, his mouth curled into a slight grin.
"I thought I wanted to get away from all this," Macomson said, motioning to the farm outside his office window. "But you realize I'm a country boy at heart.
"Two times I feel like I can solve the world's problems, either a glass of wine in my hand or on the tractor."
Motlow Creek Ranch and Cider Co. is open for tours and hiking on Saturdays or by appointment. The Cidery tasting room is open 1 to 7 p.m. Saturdays. Tastes cost $8 for a sample of all the ciders. A bottle costs $14. Motlow Creek Ranch and Cider Co. are at 10125 New Cut Road, Campobello.
How did Fat Ass Heifer Cidery get that name?
Most also ask about the name.
"Well," Macomson began explaining with a sheepish grin.
"We debated a lot about it. Like is it too edgy?
"But once you know the context of it, it's not offensive and people usually get a chuckle."
Macomson started Motlow Creek Ranch in 2004 with specialty miniature cows. The breeds range from more common to rare. The farm has sold the beef for several years, and the unique breeds have helped the farm develop a niche of sorts, Macomson said.
The female cows are called heifers, and the fat ass part became a term of endearment for one cow that was quite plump.
The name stuck.