Story by Clint Keels
Photos by Jane Howard Photography
When Lacey reached out about a piece on Ian & Rachel Harding of Wet Knot Farms, I jumped at the chance. I already loved them and was ready for any reason to see them again.
With that said, I have taken my sweet time getting this out (sorry, Lacey).
The Hardings need no immediate introduction. You see Rachel’s bouquets throughout the county in places like The Village Grind or hashtagged in photos from fancy and beautiful weddings at venues across the Upstate.
Ian, Eoin, and Finn grow, pick, wash and package our beloved Alabama Blue Collards and heirloom tomatoes we find at The Travelers Rest Farmer’s Market and beyond. Rounding out the family is their youngest boy, Asher and family dog, Daphne.
The Hardings have made a big splash in our growing agricultural community. Their plot along the North Saluda River is the origin for lots of those seasonal favorites we enjoy.
They are a delightful family, wonderful neighbors, and the most refreshing of all – solid human beings.
The first memory I hold of Ian & Rachel dates beyond the first moment of knowing we had to meet them.
I connected the dots to Tandem seeing Ian occasionally, stopping by for a Lemon Crepe or Nitro Brew (that Lemon Crepe is the sweetest secret in Travelers Rest).
Last fall, a bulk Counterculture Coffee box was visible on the porch of a beautifully renovated Arts & Crafts style home that just sold, evidence of an in-the-present move and new neighbors on the road adjacent to Koula and I. Oh, and indicator number one – good coffee drinkers recognize good coffee drinkers!
But like it always does, time moves until it don’t.
That side of the year fades faster than any other, blurring to blank stares at the calendar. One minute you’re scooping seeds and pulp out of pumpkins and fifteen minutes later you’re emptying the contents of a stocking. Then Winter sets.
I didn’t know it that October afternoon, but in 5 months or so, I’d meet some of the coolest vegetable and flower growers in this county.
On a cold rainy morning shortly after New Year’s, Koula drove me out to GSP. It was the first visual, sticking memory of Wet Knot Farms I recall.
We saw the iconic gaze of juxtaposition between land and farmer. The ultimate ponder, the ultimate why. Arms crossed, observing a wake of indifference summoned only by the natural power of this Earth, Ian stood leveled from his vantage point near the bridge of 276 absorbing it, taking it in. That visual burned into my memory like the permanence of glowing iron pressing flesh.
If you’ve lived up here long enough, you know Winter gets wet. January and February were no different this year than most. Water worked its way through the natural banked path of the Saluda River bed and then some that cold morning, trying to drink everything on the South end of Marietta and the Harding’s plot with it.
Try as it may, The Saluda did not win that bout with dry land.
Winter faded to Spring and before we knew it, we were friends with the Hardings.
It started on a walk one morning when we saw Rachel, Eoin, and Finn working the beds in their yard. We talked like old friends from the moment we shook hands about plants, flowers, and food. It took all of about one more walk until the four of us decided to capstone our friendship, sealing it with supper.
That first meal gave Koula and I an all access pass to taste the farm to table quality Wet Knot nurtures and cultivates in real time. Rachel and Ian prepared a big and bright salad with fresh golden beets, peppery arugula and vibrant micro greens all grown along the banks of a river that tried to eat it first earlier in the year.
The give and the take.
That mixture of those home grown greens accompanied the shrimp and grits perfectly, along with a few home brewed beers Ian brought to share with us.
From there, the hits kept coming.
I sat in awe, learning about everything from Ian’s love of Philadelphia Phillie’s star Lenny Dykstra to Rachel’s talents stretching beyond color and soil to guitar and piano. We learned about Ian’s internship at Bioway Farms near Ware Shoals, South Carolina where he spent a year before striking out to plant the Wet Knot flag in the majestic north end of this beautiful county.
We gawked in amazement for the next week at the centerpiece arrangement Rachel made and left for our supper table that night. We clung patiently to Instagram awaiting her next arrangement drop or for peeks at the beds of her anemones and other powerful colors along our walks.
It wasn’t long after that we were doing it all over again for homemade pizzas at the Harding household.
Rich scents of sausage, onion and peppers were on the air when we walked in the Harding household for pizza night. Eoin greeted us immediately with a big smile and Finn in tow. We hugged Ian and Rachel and made ourselves cozy at the long marble bar top. Ian and I chatted books and tomatoes over a few different beers while Koula and Rachel talked about the character of archways, the perks of open floor plans, and the ingredient spread. Decisions, decisions, decisions. I remember the squash and onion pizza, topped with micro greens getting my vote for the show stealer that night.
Ian spoke of the influential and conscious land tending philosophies penned by Wendell Berry and Gene Logsdon while the boys played.
The Hardings take their low impact to earth approach seriously, implementing organic and natural practices.
We continued visiting around the table until all but a few slices of pizza remained and Rachel sent those home with us. Koula and I took off shortly after dusk with an armload of left over pizza and a few cartons of micro greens.
We had plenty of local flavor to dress up our salads or ad lib a quick lunch the next week. Speaking of, another supper needs to be added to the calendar soon for us – I am thinking a fish fry or Po’Boys.
The morning I saw Ian beckon reason near the bridge, told me there was more to know. It locked me stiff.
To see imminent ruin loom over a vision can be a daunting thing. Observing, planning and navigating it to the other side is definitive.
For a unit – a family – to stand a piece of land, to cultivate it; they become it.
The Hardings have given all of themselves to rock, root, and stem on their plot. The proof is in their yield and authenticity of spirit and character.
The pleasure is on this side of taste and of sight, so thank you Rachel and Ian, y’all are an absolute blessing to the community you serve and a true joy to know and to call friends.