Neşet Hikmet is the “dream guy.”
That’s why he was smiling in a nearly empty, gutted storeroom while a saw screeches its way through salvaged wood. As the smell of sawdust fills the air, he points to rectangles of lumber and corrugated metal sheeting — a stall will soon take its final shape. There is one stall each for the bakery, coffee bar and butcher's counter. This leaves the middle of the shop open for the produce stand.
Collectively, these stalls will form Day's Harvest. Hikmet's idea of a modernized farmstand.
Hikmet, a professor in the College of Engineering and Computing, is opening Day’s Harvest at 912 Lady St. It will sell local produce from his family's farm and other local farms.
His personality and vision is key to the development of the farmstand. The Hikmet family owns and operates Toms Creek Family Farms — a staple of the Soda City Market and the Healthy Carolina Farmers Market.
The inspiration for the full service set up comes from Hikmet's childhood in the Mediterranean.
Hikmet is from Cyprus. Growing up, his father owned a grocery store and ran an import business. Hikmet has fond memories of living above his family's grocery store and going downstairs in the mornings to see his grandfather.
Day's Harvest and Toms Creek Family Farms seek to capture this sort of agricultural romanticism.
"On the island, every house was a villa-style back then, one story homes. In the backyard, you had olive trees, lemon trees, the pomegranate trees," Hikmet said. "If you had a little bit bigger backyard, then you had a couple of chickens or whatever. So that's the life that you grow up with."
Hikmet and his family have worked to recreate elements of Cyprus on their farm in Hopkins, which has a small farmstand to sell produce and olive oil, he said.
On a recent trip to Toms Creek Family Farm, Jhanvi Parvathaneni, a third-year biological sciences student, found Hikmet’s personality to be infectious.
"The first thing I noticed about (Hikmet was) a sense of humor from the very start when we got (to the farm) he was really inviting," Parvathaneni said.
Personality is not the only inviting thing Day's Market will offer. Hikmet also noted that he would be able to set prices without the markups necessitated by a middleman.
When Hikmet sells his family's produce at farmers markets, he keeps the cost around $2.50 per pound, and he plans to keep it that way at Day's Harvest. This is Hikmet’s way to combat food insecurity.
“As a kid, I was listening to the customers and my grandpa talking to the customers,” Hikmet said. “You learn what the community is about and what they want to do, want to eat, want to use. That's social economics.”
He plans to continue the tradition of familial involvement in the store as most of the employees will come from his family. Hikmet invites his family to pursue their interests, whatever they may be.
“I have a 9-year-old grandson, and every time I bake bread he goes ‘Oh, can I help?’" Hikmet said. “I want to spark interest in them, if they want be just business administrators they can manage the books, or if they want to be hands-on, they can do whatever they like.”
Hikmet’s do-it-yourself attitude extends beyond having his family staff the market. He lets little go to waste, he said.
On the family farm, Sam Larson, a fourth-year environmental science student, said she was blown away by a DIY aquaponics system that uses recycled olive oil barrels from Hikmet’s olive oil imports.
Hikmet takes it upon himself to create meaningful spaces, including operating his farmstand out of a historic building.
“Before (the building was completed in 1916), it was land where the farmers came and pitched tents for the farmers market that was, back then, on Assembly Street," Hikmet said. "So they'll pitch here because this lot of land has water — a natural spring which is underneath here.”
The farmstand will combine Hikmet’s observations as professor at USC with his family’s farm. Citing the lack of space on campus for students to work, Hikmet found the basement of the Lady Street building and used it as a space for his students to work. The downstairs space features seating areas for students to study and hang out with the water creating a “zen area.”
“What I like doing is building these spaces where you can interact with people and meet certain needs,” Hikmet said. “That's why I started the basement, before COVID, I needed a space where my students could hang out.”
This space can help customers find value in connecting with farmers.
"It's so important to have a relationship with a farmer and hear about what they're doing," Larson said. "You might have to spend a little extra on produce or whatever, but in this case, it sounds like they won't even have to pay more."
The basement space will serve as café style seating and community space to further tie the farm to consumers. Hikmet will also rig TVs to have a live broadcast of Toms Creek Family Farms’ greenhouses.
Day's Harvest will have a soft opening before the end of 2022 with plans to open the community space soon after.