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Couple helps preserve a way of life by teaching sustainability

6 mins read

By Bill Rauch

Permit me to begin by thanking the tipster who led me to this story, one of Beaufort’s great ladies and a great mom, too — Pat Von Harten.

Here’s the story.

There’s a kind and lovely woman on St. Helena Island who for many years was the guidance counselor at St. Helena Elementary School. Her family, the Greens, have lived on St. Helena Island for many generations. Her name is Sara’ Reynolds Green. But don’t be confused. Her last name is Green now because she is married to Bill Green, who is the proprietor and chief chef at Gullah Grub, the restaurant that is located exactly at the corner of the Corners Community.

In 1892, Mrs. Green’s great-great grandfather bought a few acres down Eddings Point Road that the family has held onto and farmed ever since. Today the farm is known as the Marshview Community Organic Farm and the vegetables that are grown there are picked daily and served at the Gullah Grub restaurant.

Who are the land’s current farmers?

Sara’ and Bill Green and an array of young people, some now more veteran than others, from St. Helena Elementary School. 

“Our goal,” Mr. Green says, “is to see that young people learn about sustainability. If they can grow the crops and make the crops into meals, then they can sustain themselves.”

The Greens, through the South Carolina Coastal Community Development Corporation, also run a cooking school two days a month. The school is held in the commercial kitchen that is in one of the buildings behind Gullah Grub. Also in Gullah Grub’s backyard is the oldest packing shed on St. Helena Island, a federally designated building that the Community Development Corporation (CDC) is currently raising the funds to stabilize and restore so that it can be used safely for family reunions, weddings, a vendor’s market and a public performance space.

But the cooking school came first. Registration there is $25, or you can clean up around the CDC buildings and work a day or two in the garden.

Who are some of the cooking school’s pupils?

Students at St. Helena Elementary School.

Two of the cooking school’s students, Zionna Wearrien, a fourth-grader at St. Helena Elementary, and Jayden Simmons, a fifth-grader there, talked to me last week.

“Here’s the difference between the macaroni and cheese they serve at the school cafeteria and the mac and cheese we make at the cooking school,” Ms. Wearrien said. “The cafeteria’s is dry and it falls apart.”

“Yeah, they don’t use their flour right to make it sticky, and there’s no seasonings,” Mr. Simmons, the fifth-grader, added. “And when we make it, we put in salt and pepper and a little garlic and turmeric. That’s what gives it the taste.”

The vegetables raised at the Marshview Community Organic Farm are used also, of course, at the CDC’s cooking school.

“It would be better,” Mrs. Green said, “if the schools could use locally-raised vegetables in their cafeterias the way we do at our cooking school. It would be healthier. But getting the permits to use groceries other than those provided by Sodexo (the Beaufort County School District’s longtime cafeteria services provider) in the schools is too hard. 

“Someone else will have to do that,” she added resignedly.

Yes. But not impossible.

There are at least two ways to go. The school district could self-operate its cafeterias and run a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified farm to produce the fresh fruits, vegetables and honey that the cafeterias need. What they grow and they don’t need for the cafeterias they sell. Spartanburg District 6 is an example of this model.

Or, for starters, the Beaufort County School District might just revise its Sodexo contract the next time it’s up, stipulating that certain fruits, vegetables and honeys be purchased by Sodexo from specific local farms with which the district would also contract. The revised Sodexo contract could also specify that the locally-grown fruits and vegetables be served fresh.

What Spartanburg 6 has found is that by offering fresher, tastier and healthier meals there are more children eating their school lunches, and more children have developed an interest in nutrition and food preparation. Moreover, the learning experience of the elementary school children who participate in the hands-on activities District 6 offers at its 16-acre farm and in its greenhouse prompts the children to begin to take a healthy interest in botany and horticulture, according to the district’s Deputy Superintendent Gregory Cantrell.

That may be news to most of us, but it’s old news to Sara’ and Bill Green.. 

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

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