Publication Date


Committee Members

Elizabeth Brabec, Chair - Mark Hamin, Member - Henry Renski, Member


This report is a summary of a community food assessment (CFA) conducted over the course of five field survey trips to St. Helena Island, South Carolina, from December 2011 to July 2013. The goal of this CFA was to understand community characteristics related to the distribution and consumption of fresh produce, fish and shellfish. The method used for this CFA is composed of three parts, (1) spatial analysis using Geographic Information System (GIS) data (2) a community food assessment survey focused on where residents obtain their food and (3) ethnographic interviews with local growers, subsistence farmers and consumers. Applying this mixed-method approach, we uncovered an intricate informal network of subsistence farmers who supply the local food system with fresh produce, shellfish and fish products. Initial fieldwork findings indicate that during harvest, fresh produce, fish and shellfish are regularly dispersed, free of charge, throughout the community by familial and neighbor-to-neighbor sharing relationships. Additional food is shared for low or no cost via "informal access points" such as front-yard produce stands, county food pantries, and distribution at local places of worship. Of those surveyed on the island, (N=50) 75 percent report having either direct or indirect access to fresh produce, fish and shellfish through this informal network. These preliminary findings suggest that rural communities with limited transportation access to supermarkets may actually have substantially more access to fresh fruits, vegetables and other culturally significant foods than previously determined by conventional quantitative 'formal' food desert detection methodologies.