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St. Helena Video Documentary

Video Documentary Chronicles NRCS Conservation Work on Unique South Carolina Island

by Amy Overstreet, SC NRCS PAS and Outreach Specialist

The dynamic relationship between people and the land on a unique and pristine island off the coast of South Carolina is chronicled in a newly released video documentary produced by SC NRCS in partnership with the University of South Carolina.

St. Helena Island´┐ŻA Better Place showcases the people who are passionate about their homeland, about farming sustainably, and about 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 the island, as the camera captures the many elements which make this such a magical place.

The USDA-NRCS has worked with private landowners that own small acreages on St. Helena, which is just five miles east of Beaufort County, one of the most rapidly developing counties in the nation. The island consists of 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 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 quality, especially since much of their food is harvested from the sea. Many of the island’s farmers have 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 historic 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.

You can view the production at
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Photo credits: Denise McGill, University of South Carolina