Indigo and Companion Food Crops: Opportunities for Limited Resource Farmers in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2023: $79,500.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2025
Grant Recipients: International Center for Indigo Culture; Marshview Community Organic Farm ; Save Our Land Ourselves ; South Carolina State University
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:


  • Agronomic: cotton, hemp, indigo
  • Fruits: berries (blueberries), berries (brambles)


  • Education and Training: extension, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance
  • Sustainable Communities: values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    The team will develop and implement trainings for 50 Service Providers over 2 years to demonstrate to Limited Resource farmers how indigo (Indigofera suffruticosa) can be grown in coastal South Carolina and Georgia as a polyculture, interplanted with companion and heritage crops such as hemp (Cannbis sativa), sea island cotton (Gossypium barbadense), roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa), and antioxidant-rich blueberries, elderberries, muscadines, and processed into indigo dye pigment with producer cooperatives.  

    Indigo grows sustainably in the region with no soil enhancement, chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and naturally builds soil nitrogen. The crops support pollinators, habitat for native wildlife, and offer a healthier alternative to toxic chemical dyes. The regional market for Lowcountry indigo is strong (sales of pigment, textiles, workshops) and is directly tied to its 18th century history as a cash crop and export commodity grown on plantations by enslaved people -- many from West African cultures with long and rich indigo dying traditions. 

    Coastal Gullah farm communities, whose unique culture is deeply connected to farms acquired by ancestors after the Civil War, are seeking new strategies to address land loss, cultural decline, and sea level rise. Many are descendants of formerly enslaved ancestors who produced indigo.  Trainings on St. Helena and Sapelo Islands will show how: indigo and companion crops offer potential income sources for farmers to pay high property taxes and retain family land, and: producer cooperatives may tap into burgeoning markets for indigo in rapidly growing coastal communities (Charleston, Beaufort/Hilton Head/Savannah) where Gullah land is under threat.  

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The project objectives are designed to achieve the project goal of training 50 Service Providers over two years to work with Limited Resource farmers in  advancing regional production and processing of value added products from indigo and companion crops including fiber (hemp, sea island cotton) and healthy foods (blueberries, elderberries, muscadines) in coastal SC and GA.

    1. Plan and execute an effective two-year Service Provider training program with a collaborative, diverse, multi-institutional project team. Emphasize emerging value-chain opportunities for Limited Resource farmers in producing, processing, distribution and marketing to meet regional demand.  
    2. Develop and deliver curriculum for an online training workshops (and on-farm training workshops, including wider distribution of a farmer-focused how-to manual for indigo dye production in print (250 color booklets) and digital form (PDF).  
    3. Demonstrate perennial companion food and fiber plants that are grown sustainably with indigo as "guilds" on coastal farms, and that can provide local farmers with additional revenue from the same acreage through the season and as value-added shelf-stable products.
    4. Educate and inspire SP's to Limited Resource farmers in the region to grow indigo and companion plants on their farms, and develop shared facilities for processing plants into value-added products (indigo dye, fiber/yarn, juices/jams/frozen berries);
    5. Assess the potential for forming a Lowcountry Indigo Producer Cooperative to share responsibilities, risks, and rewards for processing indigo plants into dye at central community-based facilities to supply dye pigment to the regional markets of Charleston, Beaufort/Hilton Head, and Savannah.

    The Target Audience consists of Service Providers (SPs) serving Limited Resource farmers in coastal communities of SC and GA, many of which are Gullah farmers facing chronic land loss due to high taxes, development pressure, and heirs property challenges. SPs will be staff and contractors with universities and nonprofit organizations, including: SC State University 1890 extension agents; University of GA 1862 - extension agents; GA State 1890 extension agents; Clemson University 1862 extension agents; USDA-NRCS field agents in SC/GA; Farm Service Agency in SC/GA; mentor farmers including farmers associated with Marshview Community Organic Farm, St. Helena Island, SC; Bossville Farms in Yemassee, SC (hemp fiber); and the Saving Our Land Ourselves and the Cornelia Walker Bailey Program of Land and Agriculture on Sapelo Island, GA. Outreach and recruitment will focus on reach SPs primarily working in the coastal SC counties of Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester, Colleton, Beaufort, and Jasper, and the coastal GA counties of Effingham, Chatham, Bryan, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, and Glynn. 

    Service Providers are expected to change their knowledge of, and advocacy for, a renaissance of Lowcountry indigo and related companion products, by  encouraging and supporting:

    1) indigo and perennial food and fiber crops as a source of income for Limited Resource farmers;

    2) developing the indigo value chain with producer cooperatives (farmers and textile artists) and universities partnering to establish systems for production, processing, and distribution to reach local markets for natural dye, dyed textiles, and related local food and fiber with products marketed to tell the story of their Lowcountry origins, and;

    3) marketing indigo dye, indigo dyed textiles, and dyeing experiences across the region to tap growing demand for coastal agritourism/cultural tourism, interior design textile art, fashion design textile art, destination weddings, art classes in K-12, colleges and universities. 

    With the majority of SPs representing academic institutions and NGO's eligible for significant and ongoing grant funding to develop a sustainable regional value chain for indigo, it is anticipated that behavior change will also include applications for significant multi-year grants tailored to respond to this opportunity, including USDA 1890 Capacity Building grants for HBCU's. 


    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.