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Small farm making a big impact

Story by Becca Edwards + Photography by Marissa Paykos

Whippoorwill Farms is focused on giving its animals their best life and living conditions.

James Young, Marissa Paykos and their daughter, Ellie, are the local faces behind Whippoorwill Farms, a sustainable organic farm located in Ridgeland.

We live in a bigger, faster, technology-driven world. Well, at least most of us. But not Marissa Paykos and James Young, owners of Whippoorwill Farms in Ridgeland. Their take on life: Leave the Earth in better condition than the way you found it. They, along with their four-year-old daughter, Ellie, live on a small farm that is making a big impact not just on their family’s life, but in the lives of others in the Lowcountry. Working with their hands and their hearts, this salt-of-the-Earth family and their soil and soul-enriched farm reminds us all that grit is good.

Love at first bite

Paykos and Young’s first dates were spent picking five gallon buckets of tomatoes that later would be canned. They also began taking camping trips to Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State Parks where they would sit around a campfire on starry nights and talk about the things that made them feel alive, while Whippoorwills called out in the distance. “It didn’t take long for us to realize that the things that made us feel alive, included each other too,” said Paykos.

When Paykos was expecting Ellie, it became even more important to her to leave the Earth a better place. “I was no longer just planning mine and James’ future, but our child’s, too. Raising what goes into our body is much more than just the food aspect. It’s kindness toward animals, to the land, to the Earth, and then to ourselves.”

Paykos and Young bought the land that was to become Whippoorwill Farms one week before Ellie was born in May 2015. Since then, the entire family, especially Paykos and Ellie, have rolled up their sleeves and learned experientially a great deal about what it means to work with your hands and to be a farming family.

“Ellie has things she has to do before we can do anything ‘fun,’” said Paykos, discussing how Ellie’s childhood is different from most children her age and how the farm has given Ellie a sense of purpose and confidence in her ability to do just about anything. “We believe it is really important Ellie is outside and around animals. She notices things and it sparks a lot of curiosity.” The other day, Ellie and Paykos were looking up at a tree when Ellie asked, “How do trees drink water?” “Because she knows we run waterlines to the garden and that animals need water to live, she was connecting the dots and wondering how a tree gets its water,” explained Paykos. “Ellie sees the bigger picture. Also, there is not a minute that goes by that she is not with me and sees where she can help. She knows we can do things that are hard, emotionally and physically, together and once we finish she will say, ‘Good job, team.’”

True farm-to-table

You’ve probably heard of pasture raised hogs. Whippoorwill Farms offers forested pork. By moving hogs throughout its wooded property, the farm provides a unique foraging environment. With plenty of space to roam, both the hogs and the land are thriving.

Paykos talked about how by supporting local farmers you are giving people a chance to make a living doing something they are passionate about and to be with their family. “It means a lot to me when people buy from me, whether it’s a carton of eggs or several pounds of meat. In short, buying from farmers is better for the farmers, the community and for yourself.”

And here’s why: First of all, as Paykos pointed out, local business owners like herself shop at the same stores, have children that go to the same schools, drive the same roads and pay the same taxes. By supporting local businesses, you invest in your local economy and therefore fortify your community.

Second of all, farm-raised food is better for your health. “In addition to being better for the environment and leaving less of a carbon footprint, it’s the freshest of the fresh. My meat is higher in vitamin D because of the animal’s sun exposure, and there is rarely a need for antibiotics, and absolutely no need for steroids or appetite increasers, ever,” she said. “You take an active role in keeping yourself healthy when you are not buying processed or chemically treated foods.”

Corner the markets

Whippoorwill Farms recently purchased a large plot of land in Jasper County to expand operations. To learn more, go to or visit Paykos on Tuesdays at the Hilton Head Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. You also can sign up to get weekly updates on available products that Paykos will deliver to your home free of charge because “Whippoorwill wants to omit any obstacles and make life just plain better”— and not because it is bigger, faster or technology-driven.

Whippoorwill Farms offerings

Whippoorwill Farms offers a unique produce stand at the end of its driveway. “We are a place where the mother of the children who haven’t had a fresh vegetable in days can come and grab something nutritious for herself and her kids, even if it’s just for a snack. If they can pay, great. If they cannot, that’s OK, too,” Paykos said.

Pasture raised chickens: “Our chickens raised for meat are started free range and on grass from 2 weeks of age until harvest. They are 100 percent free ranging, meaning that they are never locked into a coop, even at night.”

Sustainably raised pork: “The bulk of their diet is produce. This means that our hogs grow out lean, their meat is a great balance between sweet and savory and the fat content is less than what conventionally raised pork is.”

Free-range rabbits: “Our rabbits are as close to the wild as you can get. They cohabitate with our egg-laying chickens in a large forested area and are raised as a colony. Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, spinach and lettuce are all among their favorite foods.”