Rice, rice baby...
Back in June, my family and I roamed the immense grounds of Brookgreen Gardens for my birthday.
As we ambled under the live oaks draped with Spanish moss we checked out what is called the Lumpkin Rice Field Overlook - exactly what it sounds like, a place where you can look out at where rice fields used to be. And near this, there is a statue of a rice field worker - I can’t recall now, probably a slave.
I had been thinking about an idea for awhile, and after reading the accompanying historical info placards near the rice field and statue and farming implements, I turned to my wife and bounced the idea off her.
“Why can’t rice production be a major industry here now?” I asked.
We theorized a little bit and I told her I’d been thinking about exploring this idea as a cover story for Weekly Surge.
I jotted down some notes, and filed it away for later.
Then, I came across what I was needing to make this type of story relevant - I found out that September is National Rice Month.
Why does that matter?
Because South Carolina, and specifically our coastal area, used to rule the rice world.
If you look on the packaging of your minute rice, it might say the rice contained within was grown in Asia or Africa, yet plenty of rice is produced domestically. In 1694, rice arrived in South Carolina, probably originating from Madagascar, and a strain known as Carolina Gold was Coastal Carolina’s cash cow - amassing great wealth for our area, of course, on the backs of slave labor. By the 20th Century and the abolition of slavery, the trade finally died out but reminders of this past are still around, especially on the Waccamaw Neck and Georgetown County with the iconic Rice Museum clock tower, and several former rice plantations that have been preserved as historic sites.
What do modern day rice-producing states Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, California and Missouri - representing $34 billion annually in economic activity have that we don’t? (Well, they are all closer to Mexico and its pipeline of undocumented migrant workers).
With our struggling economy dependent upon the whims of tourism, don’t we want a slice of that $34 billion pie?
With advancements in agriculture technology, could Carolina Gold be the golden ticket for our region that struggles to bolster non-tourism derived industry?
A group out of Charleston, the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, is working to “advance the sustainable restoration and preservation of Carolina Gold Rice and other heirloom grains.”
Does that include the former rice fields of Horry and Georgetown counties?
We dispatched correspondent Roger Yale to get to the bottom of this potential economic windfall and find out if a rice resurgence is on its way to the Grand Strand and you can read his excellent report starting on page 12.
What’s stopping rice from becoming a vibrant industry again along the Grand Strand?
Is the land now too overdeveloped? Is it too expensive to start up?
Has the natural habitat changed too much? Is it not cost-effective?
Why can’t we have a Carolina Gold revolution and jump-start the economy?
Is it too painful a reminder of the past and slavery?
Turn to page 12 and find out the answers to these questions and more.
Kent Kimes, Editor