Gullah/Geechee Heir Property Initiative: Sustaining Heir Property in the Lowcountry Through Sustainable Agriculture

Project Overview

Project Type: Education Only
Funds awarded in 2023: $40,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Gullah Geechee Initiative Foundation
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Willie Turral
Gullah Geechee Initiative Foundation

Grant Project Terminated 3/21/2024. Grant applicant did not complete grant contracting process within specified time frame to meet requirements.


Not commodity specific


  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, local and regional food systems, quality of life, heirs property

    Proposal abstract:

    Gullah/Geechee culture is characterized by self-determination and self-sufficiency; it is defiantly African and distinctively place-based. Created by the human will of people from multiple sections of the West Coast of Africa who were enslaved on plantations along the southeast coast, Gullah/Geechee represents the only group of African Americans who maintained a significant amount of Africanisms including foodways, land use practices, subsistence fishing, and the spoken Gullah language (Goodwine, 1998; Politzer, 1999). For centuries, Gullah/Geechee communities sustained a way of life predicated on the wealth of close-knit family compounds, and carefully nurtured the resources of the land and water (Dean, 2013). In recent decades, this way of life has been disrupted due to inequitable public policy. Beyond the negative impact on the immediate community, this disruption also has negative impacts on the larger farming ecosystem. Research shows that culture and agriculture ecosystems are inextricably linked – sustain culture, sustain agriculture (Dean, 2013).

    The importance of Gullah/Geechee culture in the narrative of the American story is carefully outlined in a 435-page report by the National Park Service (NPS, 2005). The NPS report describes how 70% of African Americans in Beaufort County, SC owned farmland from 1870 until the 1960s. The report also details issues such as taxation and Heir’s Property regulations resulted in massive land loss in the Gullah/Geechee community; as much as 20,000 acres were taken out of farming production within a five- year period. The Gullah/Geechee family farmers who currently remain on their land have limited capacity to operate their farms, and as a result, the transfer of wealth in knowledge and land to the next generation of Gullah/Geechee farmers is uncertain. This participatory action research project aims to engage farmers and fishers from the Gullah/Geechee culture in determining potentially workable strategies to address capacity issues and sustainability of family farming and food security across generations. Research questions will be investigated using a systems approach that connects Gullah/Geechee farmers and fishers, community members and organizations, and public policy scientists into a collaborative agricultural systems research team. This team will collect and analyze data on the current state of Gullah/Geechee farming and fishing communities on St. Helena Island, identify and catalogue community-level strategies that can be used to transfer wealth to young Gullah/Geechee community members, and deploy a framework that can be replicated in other Gullah/Geechee communities in the region.

    This project is consistent with SARE’s mission of advancing innovations that improve profitability, stewardship and the quality of life; and SARE’s vision of agriculture as a rewarding way of life for farmers whose operations sustain their communities. Moreover, this project is well-aligned with SARE’s program objectives because it will strengthen and sustain Gullah/Geechee family farm systems for future generations, it will improve the quality of life for rural communities by enhancing local food systems and partnerships, it addresses the needs of limited-resource farming communities, and it promotes traditional Gullah/Geechee practices valuing holistic approaches and strategies that support crop, livestock and enterprise diversification, and the well-being of the community, wildlife and waterways.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Conduct farm mapping and documentation identifying key quantitative and qualitative data related to people, produce, pests, policies and profits. 

    2. Conduct a capacity analysis of local associations, cooperatives, and markets.

    3. Conduct an analysis of local and state resources and policies related to farming and fishing operations located on heirs property and micro-farming operations. 

    4. Develop and test a methodology to attract and educate  Gullah/Geechee farmers who live on or have access to heir property and micro-farming capable land and property.

    5. Develop and disseminate Gullah/Geechee heir property/micro-farm framework to potential farmers and in the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.

    6. Conduct an outcome evaluation of the Gullah/Geechee Agro-Culture research project and prepare a written report.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.