The official start of spring may be a few weeks away, but the agricultural year has already begun on Johns Island. Fields are being readied for planting next month, resulting in the late spring and summer b'ounty of vegetables and leafy greens.
Truck farming is a relative newcomer to the Lowcountry, which until the Civil War was famous for its long-staple cotton and for rice. The intense labor and high toll on soil quality associated with rice cultivation soon led to the decline of the crop. As for cotton, the devastation of the Civil War and the boll weevil infestation of the 1920's put an end to the cotton economy. Among the victims was Mullet Hall, which had been so profitable in its heyday that it warranted its own post office and commissary. Its fields had successfully produced bumper crops of cotton for the many decades of the late nineteenth century that the Legare family farmed it; the weevil brought foreclosure in 1923, when Julian Limehouse bought the property at auction and began growing vegetables for local kitchen tables. Soon, he was loading his produce onto trucks, or onto boats docked on the Kiawah River or Bohicket Creek, for shipment to downtown restaurants. Limehouse Produce still transports the fruit of Lowcountry soil all over the greater Charleston area.
Some farmers in Limehouse's day tried shifting to more weevil-resistant short-staple cotton, but prices fell too low to make the business profitable; the last major cotton crop was harvested on Edisto in 1918. The Andells, who owned much of Seabrook Island in the early years of the last century, farmed a small plot of sea island cotton as late as 1930, in addition to their cattle and dairy operations, but gave it all up shortly after William Andell's death in 1932. Not long after, the Andells sold the island to Marjorie and Victor Morawetz as a private beach retreat.
Truck farming has never reached the economic heights of either cotton or rice, but it still defines much of Johns Island south of Maybank Highway, not to mention Edisto and Wadmalaw islands. Even so, the islands' rich agricultural heritage is in danger of disappearing to development and competitive pricing from corporately-owned agribusinesses. As one longtime Johns Island farmer observed, "The land is grown up because many of the natives are not farming." Even so, as summer's crops begin appearing at farm stands all over the islands, shopping local can help keep the Lowcountry green.