Photo Credit: Nicole Adamson
From 6 a.m.–noon, six days a week, you can find Clancy Bolton at work on his farm in Commerce, about 20 miles north of Athens. In many ways, Bolton Farms doesn’t look like a commercial farm. The front drive leads to a ranch-style house with cheerful patterned curtains drawn across the windows, shaded by large, decades-old oak trees.
A small kitchen garden sits off to the right, and further on, an open field faces Bolton-Gordon Road, named for Clancy’s great-grandfather, who originally lived at one end of the road, and the Gordon family, who lived on the other. An old red chicken house stretches back toward the perimeter of trees framing the main property. This combination of house and aging farm structures is a familiar scene dotting the landscape of northeast Georgia. To Bolton, it’s home.
Bolton grew up on the property, learning to work the land with his grandfather, who’d farmed it like his father before him, at one time producing cotton. “I’m very familiar with this place,” he says. “I helped my grandpa do 1,000 things underground, above ground, in the woods.”
Farming is part of Bolton’s heritage, so it may not be a surprise that at age 23, when his peers were going into office jobs, he decided to start a farm of his own in 2014. Today, his age still surprises people, but the number belies his years of experience. Bolton has been running a tractor since he was 12, and he’s worked on several farms, including four years at a large organic farm.
“I did nothing but pick up rotten tomatoes when I first started,” Bolton says, but he eventually took on more roles, learning about sales and managing harvests for market. “I was young. I was green. I enjoy working, so I hit the ground running hard and tried to soak up as much information as I could.”
A few years later, while tending his grandfather’s garden on his family land, Bolton realized he was halfway on the path to working his own farm for profit. “I worked two jobs for about a year, then I quit and did this full-time, and it’s been the best decision. It was kind of nerve-wracking, but I just dove right into it.”
Just three years into running his own operation, Bolton has breathed new life into the land. A hay field was transformed into two plots, each with 24 crop rows, 100 feet long. Bolton says his soil is the healthiest it’s ever been, and his crop yields prove it. “This is the nicest crop of eggplant I’ve ever grown,” he says, and his okra stalks have outgrown his 6-foot frame for the first time.
Each morning during the growing season, he hustles to harvest and prepare crops for market.
Bolton is a vendor for the Athens Farmers Market and the sole farmer providing produce to the Athens Land Trust CSA. He also sells to several Athens restaurants and to PeachDish, a meal-kit delivery service based out of Atlanta.
When he’s not in the field or making deliveries, Bolton is strategizing ways to grow more food using less labor. His two main fields are now irrigated, and he built a hoop house by hand last winter so he could begin selling in January rather than wait for spring crops to sprout.
Of course the work is tough, says Bolton, but he loves it. “It makes me feel good to see a nice, healthy crop and a nice presentation of what I’ve grown,” he says. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘Your stuff looks fake, it looks so good,’ so it’s worth it.”
Bolton is proud of what he’s accomplished, and he knows his grandfather would be, too. In fact, he says his grandfather Bolton, who preferred to be outside, would be farming alongside him if he were alive today, happy to work and eat the food. “That’s the kind of man that raised me,” he says. Now, a fourth-generation Bolton farmer is channeling lessons learned in hopes that we will enjoy his food, too.