If you had a choice between average nutrition and optimum nutrition, which would you choose? Optimum, right? If you want optimum nutrition and you live in central South Carolina, you want to get your vegetables from SCF Organic Farms (aka Sumter Cooperative Farms). Heritage vegetables adapted to South Carolina, grown organically and without irrigation, picked fresh, with all of the available vitamins, minerals, and nutrients still intact. That's optimum nutrition the way SCF Organic Farms does it. To meet the farmers, learn about the land, and discover their exceptional products, read on....
When you walk the fields with Azeez Mustafa, it is all about Abundance. To listen to him share his knowledge from 30 years of “reading the land” as a sustainable farmer you quickly understand that Mother Earth does offer us more than enough, more than what we all need or want – if we can only remember how to cultivate our own place in her garden. Sumter Cooperative Farms, the first certified organic farm in South Carolina, is about cultivating Abundance. Abundance for individuals, Abundance for communities, and Abundance for all living things.
Azeez and Fatiyyah Mustafa and their son Shaheed learned to cultivate their place in the garden during years of homesteading in the woods of Sumter County in the 1970’s. “You start to learn from nature and creation” says Azeez. Listening and learning from native plants and animals all around them, the family cultivated an intuitive understanding how the cycle of life supports itself as a natural design. The message they impart to others in their words and their practice is clear: any of us who garden or farm are designers working with the cycle of life. They came to see that so many people in their community, their country, and around the world are malnourished, starving, and suffering from illnesses that result from a broken food system driven by industrialization and profit. People are surrounded by natural Abundance, but we are living in place of scarcity and disconnection from the land.
They saw that we are born into a myth that tells us we cannot feed ourselves, our communities, or the world without an industrial food and farming system completely dependent on corporations supplying large amounts of water, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, migrant labor, genetically-modified seeds (GMO), fossil fuel-driven equipment, and a massive global distribution system, all heavily subsidized by our own tax dollars. In the food they provide and the workshops they offer, Sumter Cooperative Farms lets us know that it is time to wake up from the myth, back into the natural truth of Abundance.
In creating Sumter Cooperative Farms, Azeez and his family offer Abundance in everything they do. They have united and trained a group of more a dozen local African American farmers to work together with over 100 acres of certified organic farmland growing the best food possible for their community, and teaching others how to be more self-reliant and grow their own. Farmers like Kenneth and Rose Pack, who were growing conventionally before joining SCF and getting on their lives and their 40 acres of land on the organic path. SCF leads by example: Grow heritage seeds from vegetables that are adapted to your bioregion – diverse, open pollinated seeds that have been diligently saved and passed on by many generations of healthy people who lived well without much money; Use organic, dry farming methods that work with the land and climate and their natural capacity to nurture these seeds; Use plants instead of chemicals to build the soils; Know how medicinal herbs can help keep us from depending on the pharmaceutical industry that profits off of the sickness caused by the companies profiting off of our broken food system; Buy the most nutrient-dense, just-picked organic produce offered by SCF – it’s the best health plan there is; Learn once again how we can feed ourselves and each other at the community level. These are among the reasons why Azeez has been awarded a Sustainable Farmer of the Year award by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, why SCF’s more than 25 varieties of organic produce is distributed to dozens of farmers’ markets, natural grocers, farm-to-table chefs, and wholesalers in the South Carolina Midlands and beyond, and why SCF’s workshops have successfully reached over 1,000 people eager to learn how to take back control of their food and their health. “People need to study the land again” says Azeez. “You’re a nobleman when you farm or garden. Everything in nature farms. It helps you be a better human being – humble, respectful. Organic farming isn’t expensive if you reverse the psychology – with the right seeds and methods we can save the world, our communities, and ourselves.
The land worked by Sumter Cooperative Farms resonates with Abundance. While neighboring farmers are spraying their fields with chemical “biocides” to kill all life in the soil and render it dead as dirt, SCF is building living soils and working with Mother Nature. Each Spring, the Cooperative’s farmers seed their fields with “green manure” crops and “cover crops” like clover and buckwheat to naturally build healthy, fertile, living soils and fix nitrogen while outcompeting weeds. Once these crops have done their job they are tilled under to add organic matter in preparation for food crops.
The Sumter area is blessed with having the right combination of conditions for farmers who are committed supporting a thriving local food system. The soils are productive “Inner Coastal Plain” soils that combine sandy and loamy conditions that drain well yet hold moisture and nutrients. Sumter is a largely rural county lying squarely within Zone 8a on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which means a long growing season (average extreme low temperatures in winter reach 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit) and limited window of potential freezing conditions. When combined with good access to strong markets for local produce in Columbia and Charleston, and relatively affordable land prices (productive farmland averages $2,000 - $4,000 per acre) Sumter is a veritable “sweet spot” for sustainable agriculture.
From early Spring well into Fall, the farmer-members of Sumter Cooperative Farms plant, nurture, and harvest row after row of some of the most delicious, nutritious, and beautiful vegetables grown anywhere. Azeez, Fattiyah, Shaheed, Kenneth, Rose and other farmer-members carefully select vegetable varieties from saved seeds that have proven themselves over time in the South Carolina Low Country since the early 1800’s: crowder peas, calico pea, shanty pea, sea island red peas (the original pea for the traditional New Year’s dish Hoppin’ John); Carolina red butterbean; Choppee okra. In Spring, SCF grows row after row of hearty, healthy greens with many more starting in the hoop house – Asian greens like Bok Choy, Tat Soi, and Mizuna resist insects and don’t need much water. Any given summer they’ll grow enough heritage watermelon (sweet and WITH seeds, please!) and collard greens to feed every school child in the region – that is, IF school cafeterias offered fresh, local, organic produce (you can bet SCF is working on it). They are currently developing a partnership to supply fresh organic produce to Harvest Hope Food Bank, which works to curb hunger and malnutrition in 20 counties
across South Carolina.
At a time when the USDA is redefining the meaning of “organic” based on the interests of corporate profits, Sumter Cooperative Farms is offering a fine demonstration of “Beyond Organic” and assisting people in rediscovering how to “Grow Your Own.”
If you live in or visit the Midlands of South Carolina, seek out Sumter Cooperative Farms produce at one of the farmers' markets listed in ther right hand column. As you feast on good food grown on good land by good people, the potent energy and nutrients will work their way into every cell in your body, along with the understanding that our true inheritance is abundant, healthy life for people, plants, animals, and soil.
SCF location information:
320 West Brewington Road
Sumter, South Carolina 29153
Kershaw County Farmers' Market, Camden SC
All Local Farmers' Market, Columbia SC
Sandhills Farmers' Market, Clemson University Research
and Education Center, Columbia SC
Healthy Carolina Farmers' Market - University of
South Carolina, Columbia SC