I mentioned Gullah culture in a previous post when I’d first arrived in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, which is a hub for many Gullah/Geechee people. But in my next two posts, I want to highlight two family farms running amazing businesses and preserving their family history in the heart of the Gullah islands.
Joseph Fields Farm
“I’m a third generation farmer. Born and raised on the farm. My family’s been doing ‘organics’ here since the 50s, maybe 40s too, ’cause we used chicken manure and cow manure. But then I started doing conventional farming. Now I’ve switched back to organic because those chemicals, they cause cancer,” Joseph Fields.
Joseph and Helen Fields are farming the Fields family land on Johns Island, SC, which has been in the family since the 1800s. “My parents told us to hold onto this land, because land is hard to hold onto. The kids will lose it somehow during the years, through tax or other problems, so that’s what we’re trying to do, is hold onto it,” says Joseph.
And that’s exactly what they’ve done. Joseph and Helen have been farming the land for about 40 years, and about 11 years ago they began learning about modern organic farming through the Bioneers Conference and got certified with the help of the Southeast African American Farming Organic Network. Now, they’re selling organic produce through several farmers markets, to some local schools and most recently their produce is going to Whole Foods!
I drove around the farm with Joseph for the afternoon, who told me stories about growing up on the land, about his family’s Gullah culture and about how he and Helen met so many years ago. He had quite the sense of humor, so his stories were interjected with my laughter, but he also had quite an array of knowledge on farming. As he pointed out the various crops growing on their plots spread out over the 60 acre land, he shared with me some of the practices they use – like black plastic mulch for their tomatoes and drip tape pumped from their well.
I got to meet some of Joseph’s apprentices, or young farm hands, working and learning from Joseph. Both were in their 20s, one a student, and both were white. I asked Joseph how many of his apprentices over the years are Black, or people of color. He said “none.”
Farming in the middle of Gullah nation, where agrarian roots and food traditions are so strong, and yet the question remains: Where are our young brown people on the farm??