by Amy Overstreet, SC NRCS Outreach Coordinator

 

The dynamic relationship between people and the land on a unique and pristine South Carolina island is chronicled in an award winning video documentary produced in partnership with the University of SC, Earth Sciences and Resources Institute.

St. Helena Island–A Better Place showcases the people who are passionate about their homeland, about sustainble farming, and are dedicated to maintaining the deep roots to their heritage. What is so remarkable is that the landscape is virtually unchanged since the island was occupied in 1861.

Now, one of the last communities on the East Coast that has not been swallowed up by development and tourism, the island’s future is at a crossroads. The production explores the past, present, and future of St. Helena, as the camera captures the many elements and characters that makes this such a magical place.

The USDA NRCS in South Carolina has worked with many of the island’s private landowners who own small acreages. St. Helena is just five miles east of Beaufort County, one of the most rapidly developing counties in the country. The island is just 64 square miles and is a pristine oasis for the nearly 9,000 residents that call it home. It is also the location of the historic Penn Center, one of the first schools for the children of freed slaves, and the site where Martin Luther King, Jr., drafted his famous, “I have a dream,” speech.

Most importantly, the residents here have retained and are proud of their African American Gullah culture and language. They have a deep tie and loyalty to the land and are concerned about soil and water health, especially since much of their food is harvested from the sea. Many of the island’s farmers worked closely with NRCS to install conservation practices that will help them sustain their way of life and protect the resources upon which they depend.

In addition to protecting and improving nearly 400 acres of farmland with conservation practices on privately owned farms, the island is home to a Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) easement which permanently protects 1,327 acres at the Penn Center.

The video tells the story of islanders like Ben Johnson, who left the island as a young man to work in New York City but returned to farm. “I’ve lived all over the world, but I have never found a place that I love as much as I love St. Helena,” he remarks.

Check out the documentary and let us know what you think by contacting amy.overstreet@sc.usda.gov.