South Carolina Farmer Adapts Heirloom Rice to Withstand Climate Change

"Rollen Chalmers is the ‘quiet force’ behind a renewed interest in heirloom rice while contending with encroaching saltwater, invasive weeds—and alligators."

"“When I was a kid, my parents were growing no rice; all the rice had vanished,” says Hardeeville, South Carolina horticulturist Rollen Chalmers with a soft lilt to his voice. Though the generations-deep Gullah tradition of growing rice had faded by the time Chalmers was growing up, he tapped into his family’s experience later in life.

Chalmers is now what Glenn Roberts, founder of the South Carolina grain company Anson Mills, calls a “quiet force” behind the food revival of the Sea Islands and, in particular, the renewed interest in heirloom rices. Though his face and name are largely absent from documentaries about the subject, Chalmers is responsible for developing many acres of the grain, “from north of Hilton Head Island down into Georgia,” Roberts says. All along the way, he’s been restoring habitat and heritage.

Some of Chalmers’s most important work happens on 30 marshy acres at the Turnbridge Plantation, one of hundreds of 18th-century estates that enabled white Southerners to build vast fortunes off the backbreaking, often deadly labor of enslaved men, women, and children from West Africa’s “rice coast” countries."

Lela Nargi reports for Civil Eats September 16, 2020.

Source: Civil Eats, 09/16/2020