This past August members of the Farmers of Color Network team visited The Gullah Farmers’ Cooperative Association that received a grant from RAFI-USA to support the completion of their processing facility, also on St. Helena Island. The cooperative consists of several farmers in the coastal counties of South Carolina including Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, Charleston, and Jasper that are connected to the Gullah Geechee lineage. They are farming on lands that have been in their families for generations.
The Cooperative, founded in 2010, aims to “establish a profitable, significant local food market for Farmer-Members who are honoring and continuing the agricultural traditions of the Gullah Community.” Agricultural traditions run deep, pre-dating the time between 1640 and 1850 when the enslaved peoples from West Africa were brought to the island. Many of the descendants of these slaves remain on the island, actively supporting and participating in the local community.
NEW PROCESSING FACILITY
The Gullah Cooperative found its new home in the Leroy Browne Center, a nearly 10,000 square-foot-building, and is transforming it into a certified processing facility. Farmers Walter Mack and York Glover met us at the facility on a warm, humid day as they were working with a local contractor to clear about an acre of land next to the facility that will be the future site of greenhouses that will support their plans for season extension for farmers. The facility formerly served as a health services office for the county and sat vacant for five years before the Gullah Farmers approached the county to reactivate the building.
The space inside houses three large coolers — the RAFI-USA Infrastructure grant they received was in part used to supply electricity to the new coolers. The building also houses a full processing facility that will be available to farmers to sort, wash, and pack their produce for wholesale market outlets. The facility will employ local labor in order to run efficiently. The farmers have partnered with various entities to ensure the facilities meet food safety and GAP standards, including their local Clemson Extension offices. This includes consulting about engineering machines for optimal performance and ensuring that OSHA regulations are met.
The cooperative hopes this new facility will help to increase market access to farmers, with small to larger scale farm operations. The farmers have previously partnered with the county schools to provide produce for local school cafeterias. Partnerships like this will help create consistent, sustainable income for local farmers while contributing to the local economy. The facility also presents an opportunity to model for future generations the possibilities of farming and also collective movement towards the health of their communities.