Tradition - it's the main ingredient in most things you can buy at Geechie Boy Market & Mill on Edisto Island, South Carolina. And that's just the way owners Greg and Betsy Johnsman intended it to be when they married and embarked on a farming way of life. All in all, roughly 20 family members assist with operations, including the couple's young sons who do their part to keep things up and running.
On any given summer day, you might find bins brimming with bright green pods of okra, smooth-skinned yellow squash, fresh-from-the-field heirloom tomatoes and other veggies grown right behind the market on the family farm. In fact, Betsy's father, Adair McKoy, grows bumper crops of tomatoes on 200 acres of the farm for shipping to places as far afield as Minnesota. Next to the market, there's a strip of land for cultivating small crops of specialty vegetables, including rice, a fairly new venture in experimental stages.
If you're hungry, there are salads and casseroles made by the family's most talented cooks. Homemade doughnuts are an early-bird treat, so hit the market in the morning if you want one with your coffee. One of the most popular novelties is Betsy's own "tractor-churned" ice cream, available in ready-to-eat half pints. It's the perfect family treat after a day at the beach or to cap off the excitement of reptile-gazing at nearby Edisto Island Serpentarium.
While the Johnsmans will engage you with stories of farm and family, the real star of the show sits silently off to the side: a 1945 grist mill used to grind their signature grits. The red contraption, acquired by Greg and painstakingly refurbished, grinds about 2,000 pounds of heirloom corn into flour, meal and grits on a weekly basis. The products are then shipped to about 200 restaurants across the country. If you've eaten at some of Charleston's most lauded eateries - Husk, Fig, Hominy Grill and McCrady's, to name a few - you've likely enjoyed the old-fashioned flavor of Geechie Boy grits.
But the mill is more than a means to make a living. It held a secret that Greg discovered by supplying its serial number to the original manufacturer: It is the same mill that ground the corn grown by Betsy's grandfather back in the day. It's something McKoy said he suspected when he first learned his son-in-law had purchased the mill.
"My children are planting the land that their ancestors farmed," said McKoy. "That history is what keeps me going, the sense of stewardship. When we're turning the ground at daybreak, it's those images that come to mind. That's what you get with our products."
Geechie Boy Market & Mill, located at 2995 Highway 174 on Edisto Island, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Grits and cornmeal can be ordered online. Call 843-209-5220 to inquire about the availability of produce and other products.
For more information, visit http://www.geechieboymill.com/.