LEXINGTON, S.C. — Between 5:30 and 6 each morning, Brandon Myers climbs out of bed and gets straight to work. As the owner of Southern Fresh Farms, LLC, the Pelion High senior’s routine is always the same—feed the chickens, collect eggs, eat breakfast and then head to school.
Myers repeats the same process of feeding the chickens and collecting eggs most afternoons, and he doesn’t mind the demanding schedule. “I was taught at a young age that hard work will get you anywhere you want to go,” says Myers.
And, it does. In 2012, Myers, a Lexington County School District One student, started his agribusiness with a friend, who later decided to pursue other interests. The idea came about during an agriculture science class Myers took through the Center for Advanced Agribusiness Research at Pelion High.
The business initially consisted of four hens, but Myers had a bigger goal in mind. He researched what it would take to sell eggs to local stores and the community. That’s when he realized he would need more money.
Myers applied for and received a loan through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). The $2,500 loan covered his startup costs including 40 layers (hens), a chicken house and feed. He built the operation in his backyard.
By 2014, Myers again expanded with an additional FSA loan. He added 500 chickens and two additional chicken houses. Now, after a year of expansion, early projections show he could gross $30,000.
FSA loans require Myers to have a business adviser. PHS Agricultural Education Instructor and FFA Adviser Frank Stover serves in that role. “My biggest advice was to start small and expand,” says Stover.
Myers cleans, weighs, grades and packages his eggs. He also handles promotion, which consists mainly of business cards, the Instagram hashtag #SouthernFreshFarms and word of mouth. He currently sells to friends, family, and Four Oaks Farm in Lexington. Eventually, he’d like to sell to stores such as The Fresh Market and expand his operation to 5,000 chickens.
Lexington County School District One Student Ron Berry, a Pelion High senior and Center for Advanced Agribusiness Research student, also runs his own agribusiness.
Last spring, he used money from his savings account to start Spring Branch Farms, a catfish operation. He earned the money by working on his family’s poultry farm and another farm during the summer.
As Berry considered what type of agribusiness to start, his father suggested that he raise catfish. The family had previously done so and already owned a cage for containment of the catfish. Berry also had access to a pond on his family’s property. Those two factors meant more manageable startup costs.
Berry also took the same advice Stover gave Myers. He started off small. With little more than $500, Berry purchased additional supplies, feed and 500 fish.
In April, Berry placed the fish in the cage in his pond and waited for them to grow. The average growing season runs until the end of September, but as Berry monitored his crop’s progress during daily feedings, he realized his catfish were a little small.
In order to produce a better crop, Berry decided to delay harvesting until November resulting in a brief scare when the Midlands received an early snow. Thankfully, his catfish survived.
Berry says the hardest part of raising catfish is the harvest, but it’s the part he enjoys the most. “You’ve been waiting for six or seven months and to finally see what they look like is a good feeling,” says Berry.
Once the catfish are harvested, the cleaning, weighing and packaging process begins. Berry handles all of that along with marketing and sales. He mainly sells to family and friends, but also use.
“Before the center and all my other FFA activities, I had trouble speaking with others. I didn’t have much confidence,” says Berry. Starting and running his business has also helped change that.
This spring, Berry wants to increase his growing area and add more cages to accommodate 2,000 catfish.
Berry and Myers both plan to attend Piedmont Technical College in the fall where they will pursue a degree in diversified agriculture. Berry hopes to continue his education after that at Clemson University.
Both are committed to a career in agribusiness, an industry that state agriculture officials say has a $41.7 billion economic impact in South Carolina.
When Myers and Berry graduate in June, they will leave Lexington One well prepared for their future.
Frank Stover agrees. “Both students are extremely hard workers. They possess the integrity and self-motivation needed to be successful entrepreneurs.”