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    Authentic: The Family Behind Toms Creek Family Farms

    Before Neset Hikmet settled in Columbia, he was a man of many places. Originally from Cyprus, an island on the Mediterranean Sea, he moved to the United States in 1980 to be with his now-wife. For 32 years, they lived all over the eastern seaboard before finding themselves here in Columbia in 2012, where they purchased Toms Creek Family Farms five years later with the intention of creating a legacy for their daughters.


    Keeping the farm true to its name, their daughter and son-in-law, Ezgi and Larry, moved here from Florida with their three daughters to work with the new family business. The farm now offers everything from produce and dairy to preserves and meats at their store, the Farmers Market Xchange in downtown Columbia. Everyone has a hand in the success of the business, with Ezgi heading operations at store, the Hikmet’s other daughter Guzin managing the farm, and their parents happily supporting them every step of the way. “We built this for them,” Neset says with a smile.


    For Neset, who grew up around the growing and selling of food during his childhood in Cyprus, opening a brick and mortar store for Toms Creek seemed like the natural move. “My grandfather [on my mother’s side] had citrus groves,” Neset explains. “My father’s side, his part of the family historically goes back and they’re grocery owners. A small town grocery, mom and pop style. So I grew up in between those, and you get used to it. It’s part of your life.”


    In addition to running the rapidly growing farm, Neset is a professor in the Department of Integrated Information Technology at the University of South Carolina. There, he teaches courses on cybersecurity, networking, and artificial intelligence, incorporating the latter into his farm in innovative and exciting ways. With grant funding from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, he implemented sensors in the Toms Creek Family Farms greenhouses that report crop performance in real time. Through data collection and machine learning, these sensors help Neset and the Toms Creek Family Farms team know exactly what nutrients and environmental factors their crops need in order to thrive. He brings this opportunity for learning back to his graduate students, too, who come to the farm for real world experience with artificial intelligence.


    That’s far from the only way Toms Creek Family Farms is impacting the region. Recently, the farm partnered with the City of Columbia to create a mobile market, selling fresh, nutritious ingredients in food deserts. Currently, the mobile market stops in two zip codes in the Columbia area, but that could soon change with the addition of another truck. The family believes in providing locally-sourced fresh produce to everybody, and they have high hopes to expand not just in our city but across the state.


    You can find their bread—made from wheat they grow and grind themselves—fresh vegetables, and more at Soda City Market on Saturdays. And be sure to check out the Farmers Market Xchange on Lady Street in the Vista, where you can purchase their produce as well as other locally-sourced foods, lunch and dinner.


    The sky’s the limit for Toms Creek Family Farms, so be on the lookout for new ways they’re impacting Columbia with healthy food, educational opportunities and more!


    Click here to see when and where to find the Toms Creek mobile farmers


    Pictured: Larry Schneeberger, left, and Neset Hikmet pose in front of the mobile farmers market.