STANDING BY THE BARN, face shaded by the brim of her well-worn hat, Sará Reynolds Green looks out over her verdant farm that lies just a few feet above the high-tide line on Saint Helena Island, one of the many barrier islands along the South Carolina coast. The lettuce is growing fast. Cucumber vines are climbing up the bushes. String beans are dangling on poles. Green looks at the kids out there, amid the rows of vegetables and low-lying fruit. They are local schoolchildren from the island and farther afield. Some are as young as five. Some are near college age. They pull weeds on their knees, getting their hands dirty. They push okra seedlings into prepared beds, and spread mulch for the sweet potatoes. They smile because they’re outside. Because they can eat a cherry tomato, or two, or three off of the vines. Or perhaps snack on some glowing strawberries. They smile because the blue sky is above, the dark soil is below and, with some spark of wonder, some magic caught between stem and root, they are coming to understand how it’s all connected — the soil and the sky and the tender green beans hanging from the poles.
Green, now 70, is on a mission with these kids — she wants them to grow into stewards of the land. These “Young Farmers of the Lowcountry,” as they have come to be known, are learning all about farming and entrepreneurship at Marshview Community Organic Farm — a sustainable farm Green runs in the heart of the ancestral lands of the Gullah Geechee, descendants of the first Africans enslaved and brought to the US in the 1700s to work on plantations. The children split their time between learning to cultivate food from seed and learning how to cook delicious meals with that produce from Green’s husband, Bill Green, who runs a local restaurant, Gullah Grub.
“We have a connection to the earth,” she says. “It’s special — learning what can grow, watching things grow, passing on what you know.” She also wants to teach the kids “loving kindness, patience, and tolerance,” and farming, she says, “is a way to teach that.”
Ever since she was a child herself, her eyes have always rested on this piece of land. Her great-grandfather bought 40 acres of farmland after the Civil War when a lot of the White landowners left the area. “We’ve been farming this ever since,” says Green, who has inherited 10 acres of that land.
Green’s father was murdered when she was 10 years old, leaving her mother to not only tend the farm, but raise six children, as well. “My mother raised all six of us farming,” Green says. She grew crops according to the season. Onions and squash, they grew. Watermelon and peanuts, too. Squash blossomed in the summer, sweet potatoes in the fall. Green recalls those early days when she’d have to weed and water the plants. She’d help her mother load up their truck with cucumbers. “We would load it up as high as it would go. Twice a week we’d do that, and she’d take them to the packing houses … I didn’t like it as a child. But it’s in my DNA,” she says.