The Lowcountry region occupies 2,000 square miles of land at the southern tip of South Carolina. While the extreme wealth concentrated in the Hilton Head resort area skews poverty statistics in this region, its presence is widespread among the proposal’s target populations, underscoring stark cultural and racial divisions. For this pilot, the farmers reside in Beaufort County, typified by those living in Census Tracts 1, 11 and 21. In these tracts, a combined 86% of the total population is described as rural. Of the 26,769 people living there, an average 51% of the population is African-American, with a per capita income of $11,326; and more than 45% are listed as “not in the work force.” The target populations receiving food assistance primarily live in Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton and Colleton counties (hereafter referred to as ‘surrounding areas’). Of these 82,680 people, the average income is $10,446, with 73.5 percent listed as rural, and 52.7% are “not in the work force”(1). Please see Appendix A: Target Communities Census Tract Maps.
In 1861, this region became the first land in the South occupied by Union forces and liberated from slavery. Abandoned by plantation owners, many African-American families assumed vast stretches of farmland, which their families have owned for generations. Without adequate capital or expertise, however, the resources remain largely uncultivated. In the 1970s, when Senator Earnest “Fritz” Hollings conducted his ‘hunger tour’, Beaufort County occupied the national spotlight, becoming a symbol of malnutrition and racial inequality. While Holling’s testimonies before Congress helped to eliminate third-world hunger and rampant disease, these reforms did not destroy the economic and cultural roots of malnutrition and its consequences. In November 2004 article, Senator Hollings commented that low-income populations living in Beaufort County and surrounding areas “have moved from hunger to health care"(2).
Despite these obstacles, the study also found that the community’s rich agricultural traditions and resources, year-round planting season, and the prevalence of farmland owned by low-income populations, offer compelling opportunities for economic development. In particular, these farmers can prosper in growing organic, ornamental and medicinal crops – the “riches in the niches” (7). South Carolina’s number-one industry, tourism, is concentrated in this region, producing $9,895,984 in accommodations tax revenues in 2004, 29% of the state’s total accommodations tax revenues (8). This booming segment supports hundreds of hotels, restaurants and merchants prizing local produce. South Carolina grocers also have joined this trend, providing local farmers with significant retail opportunities (9).
In a 2004 state economic development study, Harvard economist Michael Porter promoted agricultural clustering to reduce poverty in South Carolina’s rural communities (10). The purpose of the proposal is to encourage these activities at the micro-economic level. Relationships between local farmers and tourist-driven businesses can benefit the regional economy, while preserving its beauty and traditional cultures. In turn, the preservation of Beaufort County’s culture and natural beauty will attract visitors, creating a symbiotic relationship between these two sectors.
1. South Carolina Office of Research & Statistics, South Carolina Community Profiles by County, Beaufort County Census Tracts 1 and 11, See www.sccommunityprofiles.org.
8. South Carolina Commission on Travel & Tourism, “Leisure and Hospitality Industry Employment in South Carolina 2003”, www.discoversouthcarolina.com.