College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; Public Service and Agriculture

Clemson Extension’s Ag + Art Tour shines spotlight on some of South Carolina’s ‘best-kept secrets’


Nation’s largest free farm and art tour coming to 20 counties across the state in May and June

NEWBERRY, S.C. — The South Carolina Ag + Art Tour has grown from one county in 2012 to 20 on this year’s slate, but as supporters gathered this month to reflect on that growth, the impacts they shared had little to do with statewide expansion.

That’s because stakeholders and volunteers for the nation’s largest free farm and art tour have seen the effects much closer to home.

Jamie Vaine, executive director of the Fairfield County Farmers and Artisans Market in the small rural town of Winnsboro, S.C., is among them.

“The Ag + Art Tour brings a lot of people in to see what Fairfield County actually has,” said Vaine, the county’s tour coordinator. “Fairfield County has a lot of great farms and a lot of culture that people don’t necessarily see because we are off the beaten path.”

But what they find when they arrive in Fairfield County, which is in the Olde English District of South Carolina between Columbia and Charlotte, N.C., is a vibrant area rich with history and agriculture.

“The Ag + Art Tour helps bring us back into the light of South Carolina and lets people see that we exist and see what we have to offer,” Vaine said.

A self-guided tour of farms and markets with local artisans at each stop, the Ag + Art Tour offers visitors an opportunity to learn about agriculture, see artists in action, enjoy the melodies of local musicians and connect with rural life.

“This is going to bring in tourism and exposure to our agritourism farms and give people a chance to step back, slow down their pace of life, come see where their food comes from, maybe get a unique gift from one of our local artisans, and really showcase rural Berkeley County,” said Rachel Knight, the tourism coordinator in Berkeley County, one of nine South Carolina counties taking part in the Tour for the first time this year.

Knight said that bordering Charleston County also means a significant amount of overflow visitors come to Berkeley seeking a less urban experience without venturing too far from the city’s bustle.

“We’re kind of known as ‘The Great Outdoors of Charleston,’ and the Tour gives people an opportunity to get out and explore some of the backroads they’ve never been down,” Knight said. “We’re excited to showcase some areas of our county that are our best-kept secrets.”

Since its humble beginnings in 2012 in York County — and only York County — more than 100,000 visitors have participated in the Tour, making it the nation’s largest free tour of its kind. This year’s schedule is more robust than ever, having grown from 16 tour stops in that first year to 177 locations around the state in 2024.

Supporters, stakeholders and volunteers gathered in April to kick off the 2024 South Carolina Ag + Art Tour at the old Newberry County courthouse, which was used until 1906 and is now a community hall.

Anna LaGrone, executive director of the Abbeville Chamber of Commerce, said as soon as she learned of the tour from its director, Clemson Extension Senior Agribusiness Agent Will Culler, she knew it could benefit the local community.

“Abbeville has such a rich agricultural heritage and so many artisans that it seemed like a wonderful way to showcase what they bring to the county,” LaGrone said. “One of the areas of focus of our Chamber is agritourism and agribusiness, and this seemed like a really good marriage between the two of them. We’re excited for this opportunity to bring people to Abbeville to support our businesses and our community.”

Elsewhere in the state, Chanda Cooper works as a conservation education analyst for the Richland County Soil and Water Conservation District, which works to carry out a mission of educating the public about the importance of natural resources.

That mission, Cooper said, makes Abbeville perfectly suited to join forces with the Ag + Art Tour.

“Farms are one of the best places to see the reasons why we need healthy soil and clean water: because it produces the food and the fiber and the timber that sustains life,” Cooper said. “So, the Ag + Art Tour is a great way to showcase those natural resources to our community, to help people connect with the land, connect with the farmers and also to connect with the art, history and culture of our county.”

Richland County had 15 farms featured on the Tour last year, which has grown by a third in the year since, with 20 tour sites on the slate for 2024.

“Our tour is growing,” Cooper said. “We’ll have more artisans, we have more volunteers involved, more sponsors and more people are coming together to support this idea of bringing farms and art and the community into one place.”

Part of the nationwide land-grant system, Clemson Extension’s mission is to bring the knowledge and resources of the university to the people of South Carolina by providing unbiased, research-based information through an array of public outreach programs in various areas, including agribusiness and agriculture.

Cooper said the credit for the Ag + Art Tour’s success was in no small part due to Culler and Clemson Extension, as well as Senior Agribusiness Agent Ben Boyles, who founded the tour, for bringing so many moving parts together to function as one.

“Within our county, we have so many different players involved — from the farms to the artists to the sponsors — and Will is managing that at the state level for 20 counties,” Cooper said. “It’s important for us to have Will and Clemson University as our statewide sponsor there providing the infrastructure, the branding, the talking points so that we’re all working from the same sheet of music, we all have similar objectives, and we all have the support and resources we need to make this happen.”

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