Truck farming is the production of annual fruit and vegetable crops to be sold fresh. Truck farming began after the Civil War as cities grew and the spread of railroads made transport faster and more efficient. In 1868 William Geraty and Frank Towles began farming on Yonges and Wadmalaw Islands, where the soil and long growing season were ideal for truck crops. In 1889 farmers in Charleston, Colleton, Beaufort, Horry, and Berkeley Counties planted 2,103 acres of produce for market. By 1900 the acreage had more than doubled, to 4,928 acres. They grew cabbages, Irish potatoes, asparagus, turnips, string beans, lettuce, and cabbage plants. The area around Meggett in Charleston County became the world leader in the production of cabbages and potatoes.
Truck farming helped fill an agricultural niche in the lowcountry as the commercial production of rice ended. A 1907 report on agriculture in South Carolina described the Sea Islands as crisscrossed with rail lines, rail spurs, packing sheds, and icehouses to service the industry: “at every mile, and in some instances at a less distance, are station platforms filled with barrels, crates and baskets of vegetables for shipping.” On Yonges Island, in an area known as Barrelville, barrels were made to supply the farmers’ demands. Several hundred rail cars a day shipped out of Meggett, headed for eastern and western markets.
While it was a boon to the Sea Islands, truck farming was not yet a major factor in South Carolina agriculture. The 1920s and 1930s were disastrous for South Carolina agriculture as a whole. In 1932, at the urging of the Agricultural Society of South Carolina, Clemson College opened the South Carolina Truck Experiment Station (renamed the Coastal Research and Education Center in the mid-1980s) to solve problems affecting truck crops. By then some large truck farmers farmed from a distance, not living on the farms and using African Americans from South Carolina and Florida as laborers.
By the late 1970s truck farming had come into its own, and as the twenty-first century dawned, truck crops were an important contributor to South Carolina agriculture, valued at over $60 million. While many Sea Islands may appear to be wilderness from the highway, on the back roads the cotton and rice fields have given way to fields of tomatoes, melons, and other truck crops, which are harvested by migrant and resident Mexican labor.
Murray, Chalmers S. This Our Land: The Story of the Agricultural Society of South Carolina. Charleston, S.C.: Carolina Art Association, 1949.
South Carolina. Department of Agriculture. Handbook of South Carolina: Resources, Institutions and Industries of the State. Columbia, S.C.: State Company, 1907.