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New farm brings alternative techniques, hidden gem delights

by | May 18, 2019 5:00 am

Last Updated: May 15, 2019 at 10:57 am

There’s a new farm on the scene offering produce grown using aquaponics. S.T.E.A.M Works Farms in Cottageville uses this technique to bring to market produce that might not be currently in season, yet just as fresh as if they were.
Aquaponic farming employs the usage of aquaculture, raising animals such as fish or snails along with hydroponics, which refers to growing plants in water. This creates an ecosystem that is symbiotic. The use of aquaponics dates back to antiquity — there is evidence that it was used by the Aztecs, and throughout Southeast Asia, where rice and fish were harvested simultaneously.
S.T.E.A.M Works Farms was conceived by business partners Mark Vrbas and Catherine Nelson when they set out to create an educational and test greenhouse using aquaponics. Vrbas holds a degree in engineering, and Nelson is a retired Colleton County science teacher. Both are committed to food quality and sustainability, and passing these techniques on to others so they may also grow their own food on a smaller footprint.
So far, they have been able to offer lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs to local consumers. The lettuce is appealing, with delicate texture and rich coloration. The absolute showstopper are the tomatoes. I’m having trouble recalling when I’ve seen such red tomatoes. It’s the fire engine red that kind of slaps you in the face as you walk by. Consensus all around was that they were as delicious and sweet as they were beautiful. Social media posts showed more than a few friends using them after purchase in wide ranging dish choices.
Vrbas says that he is currently constructing one of two new larger greenhouses that will house expanded aquaponics, thus being able to bring a wider range of products to consumers. This will pave the way for rooted produce as well as superfoods. S.T.E.A.M Works Farms can be found at the Colleton Farmers Market most Saturdays.

Mr. Jesse’s
Just 19 miles northwest of Walterboro lies the town of Lodge. It’s a quaint place, not unlike many small towns tucked away along back roads in the region. Many have their own cafes, which act as the town’s kitchen and meeting house, and Lodge is no different.
I had not heard of Mr. Jesse’s until locals urged me to go and try their burgers. Found on Bells Highway in the center of town, the restaurant occupies an old converted gas station. There’s something that grabs me about abandoned old-fashioned gas stations, and I’m always glad to see their purposeful use. Currently, breakfast and lunch is served Monday through Saturday.
Stepping into Mr. Jesse’s is like taking a step back in time and tradition. It’s bustling with activity on Saturdays, as anglers get food to go after a long day, and friends stop in for a quick leisurely bite.
Presently operated by Shawna and Dustin Sease, the restaurant is a family affair. Mr. Jesse himself made an appearance, much like a celebrity leaving the building.
In terms of food, I opted for a bacon cheeseburger and fried chips. The burger was juicy and well constructed with fresh strips of bacon below the burger, rather than with the veggies, which is something I prefer. Whenever I see fried chips on a menu, I get them. Fresh potato chips, deep fried until golden brown and dusted with salt, always pair well with a proper burger. I also enjoyed their sweet tea — it was well steeped and not overly sweet, and extremely refreshing on a hot, soupy day.

Mr. Jesse’s
21182 Bells Highway
Lodge, SC

(Josh Taylor, who thinks the roadside table in Lodge is way cool can be reached at

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