By Lisa Allen
Underneath this Bluffton builder is a farmer, through and through.
It’s not unusual to get an email from Ben Kennedy at 2 in the morning. That’s often what time his mind finally shuts off.
“I’m fortunate to be involved in a lot of different things, and sometimes it takes that long to catch up from the day,” Kennedy said. He is involved in many local businesses and organizations (really, who could possibly keep count?), he is married with 7-year-old twins, is part of two operating farms, quail hunts, helped launch a veterans organization, and is an airplane pilot.
“But weekends are sacred. That’s family time,” he said.
While that sounds like an overwhelming life to most, it doesn’t to those who grew up on a farm.
“My dad and grandfather were farmers (in Reidsville, Georgia). Starting in high school, I saw how valuable my experience on the farm was. You don’t learn just one trade on a farm,” Kennedy said.
You’re a mechanic, an economist, a project manager, a builder, a scientist and a meteorologist.
“It also teaches you humility and gratitude.”
Kennedy earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia and funneled that problem-solving expertise into building custom homes. He started Brighton Builders over 10 years ago in Bluffton.
But he’s always kept one foot on a tractor.
“Right now, I’m doing conservation farming,” Kennedy said. He’s planted sorghum, millet and sesame on 270 acres in Ridgeland, mostly so that quail and dove can feast upon it. It’s a common endeavor here in the Lowcountry. Wealthy industrialists snapped up plantations in the early 1900s and turned them into hunting preserves, managing the land to create ideal bird, deer and livestock habitat.
Some of the crop also will help feed the cattle herd at the family farm in Georgia, and some might show up on the breakfast table in the form of sorghum syrup. Sorghum, a heat-tolerant grass that came from Africa, has long been a source of sweetness in the South. It’s a thinner, slightly more sour alternative to molasses, which is made from sugar cane.
“I grew up eating sorghum syrup on biscuits,” he said. This cycle’s crop is to help the quail population, which needed his help. Overhunting and loss of habitat to development have taken a toll on the species.
Sorghum’s far from the only thing he’s grown.
“I also grew cotton for a movie set a few years ago. They were very precise. The rows had to be a specific distance apart, and they had to be a certain height. That was a fun challenge. It was precision agriculture. That’s what I love about farming. There are no two days the same.”
Later, he’ll add corn to feed deer.
Kennedy works to keep the use of chemicals to a minimum. “This isn’t like commercial farming where the only goal is to boost the yield. Ours is more holistic farming.”
Farming, like building, is second nature to him.
“I managed a farm out of high school,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”
And he’s not going to quit anytime soon. He has another crop of farmers to grow.
“My kids love to ride on the tractor with me. They love to be on the farm just as much as I do.” LL