April 8, 2011 / 10:09 PM / 6 years ago

Family farm's Rent-A-Chick program helps it survive

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - A small South Carolina sea island family farm that has tapped the growing agriculture tourism market in order to survive has launched its "Rent-A-Chick" program just in time for Easter.

The Legare family, of Johns Island, South Carolina, has farmed the land all the way back to 1725, growing indigo and sea island cotton and raising beef cattle.

In the 1800s the farm raised cattle and sheep, before expanding in the 20th century with Irish potatoes and tomatoes.

Striving to keep current, Legare Farms now grows pesticide-free vegetables while raising egg-laying chickens and antibiotic-free beef cattle -- as well as "way too many pigs," said Helen Legare, 52, owner of 375 acres on the island along with her brother Thomas and sister, Linda Berry.

And for the next two weeks, in the run-up to Easter, several hundred Rent-A-Chicks will go out in pairs to local families.

For $25, the family gets two chicks, a newspaper-lined box, a quart of feed and instructions on how to hold, feed and water them, and keep them warm. When the chicks are returned, renters get a voucher for a dozen eggs in the fall, when the pullets start to lay.

When it comes to naming the fuzzy creatures, Legare said "Peep is the most popular" with children.

"We lose a few every year, usually because they let the dog get them or left them outside and they got too cold," she added.

About 75 percent of Legare Farms' profit comes from its agritourism programs which also include a spring picnic, a fall harvest dinner prepared by Charleston chefs, field trips, children's summer camp and a Civil War re-enactment held on the family's land.

Legare noted that family farms have to "diversify and be willing to change" in order to survive.

"If it wasn't for the pumpkin patch, we would have been in foreclosure eight years ago," she said of the family's Halloween crop.

Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Chris Michaud

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