Farming the Sea Islands

Nestled among the marsh grass of the sea islands riverfront is the blossoming Kiawah River community. Formerly known as Mullet Hall, Kiawah River embodies sea islands traditions and history, including farming. Much of the food culture that Charleston is known for today has roots on Johns Island, which is the largest island in South Carolina and fourth largest on the east coast.

Oliver, Ike, and Earl Freeman are 4th generation farmers on the property. They grew up farming the land and will continue to do so, selling their produce at the farmers market at the entrance to Kiawah River.

Before there were famers like the Freemans, there were the sea islands’ founding farmers – members of the Kiawah, Stono, and Bohicket tribes. Coastal farming has been the legacy of the sea islands since before colonial times; it began with one of the main crops of South Carolina: indigo.

Once settled by the Europeans, South Carolina’s crop of choice became this flowered plant. The rich blue hue of this crop made it ripe for dying fabric. The color blue was so rare at the time, that indigo was often referred to as “blue gold” for its bartering powers. A popular trading commodity in India and throughout Europe, indigo came to the United States through South Carolina with both indigenous species and invasive ones.

Being an active part of the sea islands living history is vital to preserving the area, so Kiawah River is carrying on the agricultural legacy of the area by partnering with farmers like the Freemans to keep the food on the property as local as it can be.

The Freeman brothers grow an array of crops, including melons, squashes, butter beans, tomatoes, and bell peppers. As part of Kiawah River’s farm-to-table philosophy, crops like these that residents and visitors pass each day will be the same crops sold at the Kiawah River farmers market and served at our community restaurants.

In addition to supporting surrounding businesses, farm-to-table eating keeps food quality and freshness high. Farmers pick fruits and vegetables before they are ripe when they intend to ship their crops long distances. But since these foods spend their travel time ripening in the van instead of ripening on the vine, they lose vital nutrients. That’s not the case with farm-to-table. The Kiawah River tomatoes will be harvested when ripe and sold immediately after. Local produce tastes better, too! Larger farms grow for quantity, while local farms grow for flavor quality.

Local farming is a major part of the life on the sea islands, and with support, it can continue to stay that way. Diners can watch their food go directly from the farm to the table and dine with the peace of mind that they are supporting the local economy on the sea islands and becoming part of the history there. Farm-to-table produce is just another way Kiawah River is simplifying life.