CONWAY, S.C. – Greg and Rhonda Hyman have been farming together for almost 50 years. Although their operation outside Conway looks different today than when they started in 1973, their passion remains the same.
As a young woman, Rhonda Hyman worked on her uncle’s farm to earn money for school clothes. However, she did not plan on making it her life.
“I wasn’t going to marry a farmer,” she said. “Greg was reading meters for Santee Cooper when we got married. But it was in his blood, and we started the farm a year after we got married.”
They married in 1972 while Rhonda Hyman was still in high school. Using land that had been farmed by the Hyman family since the late 1800s, Greg and Rhonda raised corn, soybeans, produce and tobacco.
They were always looking for ways to improve the operation, so in 1986 Hyman Farms became the first farm to use a greenhouse to start tobacco plants, Greg said.
“I enjoy farming because I love the learning experience,” he said. “You’re working for yourself, so you learn to do everything from plumbing, wiring and roofing to digging a ditch and being a mechanic.”
As his prominence in the agricultural community grew, he was elected to be the first president of the South Carolina Tobacco Growers Association.
However, in the late 1990s, Hyman Farms stopped raising tobacco and turned their attention to crops that would provide high yield and high profit on low acreage. After some trial and error, they found muscadine grapes to be a good fit for their operation, Greg said.
Over the past 13 years, they have evolved to also raise honeybees, produce and cover crops.
“We found that we can grow crops that are good quality, safe and affordable as well as profitable,” Greg said. “There is a simplistic and natural way to go back to how nature does it. We found that planting cover crops and taking measures to improve the health of our soil has dramatically reduced our input costs.
"Plants don't eat food, they drink water, so all of the nutrients they get come from the water. We need a healthy soil that has the microbes to convert nutrients into a water-soluble form for the plants to absorb.”
These practices restore soil nutrients as well as reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, he added.
With healthy soil and 16 acres of mature grapevines, Hyman Vineyards produces a variety of muscadine wines that they sell at the Pee Dee State Farmers Market in Florence.
“We have a complimentary relationship,” Rhonda said. “I do more of the sales, and he does more of the production. We do a lot of the work together, but we also found how to use our strengths to divide and conquer.”
Although they used to have wine in 200 stores, they have pulled back from retail production and are focusing on selling grapes to processors and using their property for agritourism. Greg said agritourism is a great way to add value to an agricultural enterprise and strengthen relationships with customers.
“Most people are two or three generations removed from the farm, and they are nostalgic about the farming way of life,” Greg said. “I once heard that nostalgia takes the bumps out of memory lane, and that certainly seems to be the case here. We’ve been increasing the agritourism component of the operation for eight years, and we are seeing some real interest there.”
Currently, Hyman Vineyards hosts weddings, corporate retreats, wine tastings or any other adult-focused events that are scheduled ahead of time.
The Hymans also have two other locations for agritourism, including the Leafkeepers Inn on U.S. 76 between Fair Bluff and Nichols. Greg Hyman said the property is popular for weddings and includes the Hammonds-Edmunds House built in 1868 and decorated from that era. The house is set up for the wedding party to stay overnight. There is a chapel on site, and they have an outside catering kitchen, he said.
“We are excited about the synergy between the vineyard and the agritourism opportunities,” Greg said. “I would like to have groups come to the farm and talk to them about everything from philosophy to production.
“Now more than ever I think it is important for people to understand where their food comes from and reconnect with the land around them. I also think they need to understand that agriculture is a business, but farming is a way of life.
“Know your farmer, buy local and buy American.”