County Map Project

SC - South Carolina

Learn more about South Carolina and see the county names at Yahoo's South Carolina page.

In 1990, I enjoyed two visits to South Carolina to inspect dry cleaners in Columbia and North Charleston. Oddly, one of these had the worst environmental practices I have witnessed at any dry cleaner, but the other had the very best practices. Needless to say, one of the owners was much happier to see me than the other was!

The Battery In 2000, we returned in order to visit our friends Homero and Lisa, whom we met in Mexico in 1989, and who were living with their young son in Charleston. We had a wonderful time with them, including a great trip to the beach -- where we saw an orca breaching -- and plenty of time strolling through downtown and the famous Battery. We happened to be in South Carolina the day that the Confederate flag was removed from the state house, which was reported on local public radio in the hushed tones usually reserved for state funerals.

It took yet another decade to make a South Carolina visit in June 2010, adding perhaps one or two counties in the east-central portion of the state (not yet reflected in the map below), as we took back roads from Fayetteville, North Carolina to Charleston. This time we were to visit not only Lisa and Homero (now with a much older son and aso a daughter, both wonderful, along with three Volkswagens), but also to visit North America's only tea farm as part of my research into the geography of tea. In fact, our journey was subsidized by a small grant from BSC's Center for the Advancement of Research and Teaching.

Where are the nearest tea farms?
Pam and Lisa consider the distances ...

I had read a little about the Charleston Tea Plantation, and remained a bit perplexed about the geography. How could a crop that normally is produced by the millions of pounds inlow-wage, high-altitude locations be sustained in a high-wage country on an island very close to sea level? After all, as the signs indicate, nobody else is growing tea within five thousand miles of this place!

The geographic mystery was resolved during our private tour with Bill Hall, the third-generation tea taster who revived the Charleston Tea Plantation in the 1980s. The locational factors for tea -- as with any crop -- involve both physical and economic geography. Tea grows during the warm season, which is nearly year-round in Charleston. It is not nearly as sensitive to frost as coffee is, so the mild winters and occasional night-time frosts are not a problem for this tea. Tea does require about one inch of rain per week. This coastal location comes close to that on a yearly average basis, but not week-to-week. So the Charleston Tea Plantation has three, carefully regulated ponds that provide irrigation water as needed.

One reason that tea tends to grow in high elevations is that good drainage is required to avoid root-rot (other members of the Camelia genus and similar shrubs such as azalea have the same limitations). This was one factor that had me particularly perplexed, because of Charleston's low elevation, but the answer is relatively simple. The soils on Wadmalaw Island are sandy, and the tea fields slope gently (one inch to ten or twenty feet) toward drainage ditches. These sandy soils lack the nutrient levels required for tea, so fertilizer is carefully applied. I noticed no signs of excessive nutrient loading in the ponds, which certainly would have occurred with most routine applications.

James the tea picker This leaves (no pun intended) the economic geography. If tea pickers and processors in India or China were paid prevailing U.S. agricultural wages -- low as they are -- tea would cost about $15 per cup. So the Charleston Tea is a perfect illustration of the development principle of matching production methods to factors of production. In Charleston, labor is expensive relative to capital equipment. So the Charleston Tea Plantation employs ONE tea "picker" who drives an over-grown, carefullly calibrated hedge-trimmer through the fields. Everything about the fields is designed to accomodate this machine (shown behind me in the photo below). The picking is not as careful as hand-picking, but the plantation addresses this with capital investment, too: a single operator uses a series of sophisticated wilters, driers, and separators that compensate for any imperfections in the leaf-cutting process. The only labor-intensive part of the operation is the removal of weeds by hand, so that no foreign plant matter is introduced and no chemical pesticides are required.

The last part of the mystery is the deep financial stability provided by the plantation's partnership with Connecticut-based Bigelow. The teas of the two operations are kept separate, but each company provides a variety of benefits to the other.

Charleston tea is not "fair trade" in any technical sense, but it can be consumed with a clear conscience, as no under-paid labor is exploited in its production.

In the photo to the left, I am pretending to harvest tea the old-fashioned way, by hand-plucking two new leaves along with the bud of a leaf that is about to open.

Paloma had been a toddler during our previous visit; this time she was a sophisticated traveler, enjoying Charleston's architecture, its arts, and of course the ocean. Because of our friends and all the other attractions, we really hope to get back to Charleston before 2020 -- perhaps for the tea plantation's popular First Flush Festival. And maybe we'll pick up a few more counties. Paloma was, not surprisingly, really hoping to get to Myrtle Beach (NE corner).

Paloma by the Sea

So far, I have visited the counties shown in yellow (plus at least one not yet shown).

I have been to 26 out of 46 counties in South Carolina. 

For a very clear map with the county names, visit Delorme's South Carolina Counties page.
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