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Farmers Market continues through end of October after unusual season

The Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, which runs every Tuesday afternoon August through September, will continue for an additional month. Shoppers can purchase produce and goods each Tuesday at the Moultrie Plaza through Oct. 27.

cbrown / Provided/TOMP/Eric LaFontaine 

Robert Fields, a local farmer, speaks with Tracy Richter during the Farmers Market in August.

Tracy Richter, the Town of Mount Pleasant’s Special Events Assistant and Farmers Market manager said a farmer pulled her aside at the end of summer and asked if the town would consider extending the market. Farming has been difficult this year, and they have not had as many markets to sell their supplies.

“For us to be able to extend really was a win-win situation. The people that like to frequent the outdoor open-air market have told me that they’re very happy we’re extending because it’s giving them another chance to come out,” Ritcher said. “A lot of people still aren’t quite comfortable shopping in stores, so they’re very happy that they’re able to still come shop. It’s great for the farmers because this gives them four more weeks of being able to work.”

This year was the 11th season the market has been at the plaza located outside Moultrie Middle School. Ritcher has been running it full-time for the past ten years.

She explained if they had not extended the market through October, the students there would not have been able to experience the market much since school started later this year amid the pandemic.

“I think it’s really special for the middle students to have the Farmers Market as a part of their experience. They would have almost missed it,” she said.

Students that bike or walk to school will stop in and buy peanuts, popcorn and other snacks after school.

Ritcher explained they normally close the market at the end of September as farm crops rotate from summer to fall. Also, they notice that people typically become busy with fall activities and school so the number of customers slows down.

Also, the town’s Special Events Office is generally busy planning Children’s Day and other fall and winter events. Since those were canceled, Ritcher said it freed up their staff time to run the market further into the fall.

This year the market had 27 local vendors.

“They are funny. They’re just really enjoyable people. We’ve been there so long, I’ve seen some of their grandsons grow up,” she said. “There is a world that feeds us you know. If we don’t have farms, we don’t have food.”

She said there were two new enthusiastic farmers that joined the market this year: Chucktown Acres opened on Highway 17 and Red, White & Bloom, a Lowcountry veteran-owned flower farm off Highway 41.

“It was nice to see people are starting new farms because it’s kind of a hard business,” she added.

They started the market with an Essential Farm Goods Market for the first three months with eight farmers. They started a week late in mid-April with extended hours.

“People were just scared. We were in the shutdown. We were able to operate for people to come out,” she said. “Under request of the shoppers asking for more items, the next phase added shelf items you’d find in the grocery store like olive oil, pasta, jams, honey and those kinds of things.”

In July as the state began reopening more, the market resumed its normal hours from 3:30 -7 p.m. They added back their live music and added more vendors, which helped the Farmers Market get back to normal.

Ritcher said they wanted to offer as much as they could, while encouraging people not to loiter or gather at the market.

To help, they placed the vendors out under tents to help with social distancing and enable more space for shoppers. They also put extra space between vendors so customers would feel more comfortable and create an atmosphere that would not crowd easily.

She said she would eventually like the market to go back to what it was like in 2019, once it is safe to do so.

“I think what we all would like is for things to be able to go back to pre-pandemic. When spring comes, knowing what we know and what works, hopefully we can open back up the first Tuesday in April,” she said. “By then, people will feel safer but we need to keep what we’ve learned. I hope all my vendors stay safe and healthy so they can come back too.”

“Everyone has been so appreciative and the way they show their gratitude is by coming and shopping,” she said. “The whole point of this is not for the town. It’s for the farmers and the patrons at the market to have this opportunity.”

She said teachers, town employees and so many residents come to the main stretch of Coleman Boulevard each week to shop at the market. Ritcher estimates it takes roughly ten minutes to get from the far end of town to the market and encourages anyone who has not been to plan a visit. Throughout October, pumpkins, squash and other fall produce will be available.

South Carolina Shellfish season begins

Fried, steamed or on the half-shell are just a few ways you can eat an oyster. As shellfish season opened on Thursday, it is important for local residents to know where and how they can enjoy them. Or, how they can harvest these Lowcountry species themselves.

Captain Rocky Magwood, owner of the Eleanor Paige shrimp boat on Shem Creek, is prepared for a different shellfish-harvesting season than in year’s past. Shellfish season remains open through mid-May, but Magwood explained that this past spring they lost over a month’s worth of oyster sales due to COVID-19.

“I think we threw 107 bushels away because they’ve canceled all our parties at the end of the season,” Magwood said.

Magwood’s shrimp boat docks at Simmons Dock, which is owned by Bubba Simmons, the owner of Simmons Seafood. Magwood sells the oysters he harvests throughout the season to their seafood company.

Magwood said Simmons Seafood still paid for the bushels he’d already picked as the coronavirus pandemic affected the end of last season. He said they probably could have collected and sold 600 more bushels through April if the oyster roasts weren’t canceled.

“That’s a big chunk of change when you start talking about $20 a bushel,” Magwood said.

Magwood has a wholesale license and sells oysters to local restaurants in the area. However, in the spring, that was extremely limited once they shut down in response to the public health crisis.

He has not seen many of his friends over the past few months due to social distancing, but he is hopeful they will be able to get together for small oyster roasts at some point. He said he has been extremely cautious about the virus because he has a two-year-old son.

“If you want to get together, an oyster roast is a great way to have fun with some friends if you’re quarantining with somebody or if you know the person isn’t sick. The main thing is if you’re sick, stay home,” Magwood said. “Don’t go if you don’t feel good.”

On average, he tries to pick 15 bushels of oysters a day during shellfish season. He leaves his house around 3:30 in the morning and takes his 25’ Carolina Skiff boat out to commercial beds where he spends the day picking oysters. He wears neoprene waders to stay dry and warm.

Magwood explained he does not just pick any oyster; instead, he spends time finding the largest singles and bigger clusters to sell to Simmons. Sometimes they get so many orders that Magwood has to pick daily although some weeks they will go every other day. To keep the oysters fresh, they put them in certified coolers where they stay good for up to 10 days. Magwood has some of these coolers at his house and said they have more at Simmons Seafood.


A pelican catches a ride as Captain Rocky Magwood heads home after a long day collecting oysters.

His best days of picking have resulted in 30 bushels of oysters. Magwood says his days are long and he often doesn’t get home until after 5 p.m.

“But it’s a good, hard, honest day’s work. If you do it, you love it because it’s fun to do,” he said. “It’s only as hard as you make it.”

Magwood said the busiest part of the season begins with Thanksgiving and lasts through the Super Bowl. But, he is not sure how many bushels he will pick this year since the South Carolina Department of Natural Resource (SCDNR) has closed some beds to manage their regrowth. Magwood said he has concerns about the number of beds that have been overpicked, and how many SCDNR will open this year.

“We have to maintain our stock of oysters or they’re going to go away and we won’t ever have them again,” Magwood said. “It’s a sad thing. I’ve been around oyster-picking since I was about eight years old. And I’ve done it in the winter all my life. All I ever do is work on a shrimp boat or I go to oystering; I don’t do anything else anymore.”

Magwood thinks that people are likely to buy them this year.

“I think it comes down to more people are eating oysters and they like to eat our local cluster oysters because they have such a great flavor. There’s no comparison between a local oyster and a farm raised single. Even the ones that are raised here don’t taste as good as our wild oysters because they just grow on their own and they’re healthy.”

He explained that since the number of oyster beds are lower this year, finding a supply can be harder and they have to do the best they can to preserve the local resource.

“If there is going to be a year for limited beds to be open, this is probably a good year for it because there are already a lot of big oyster roasts that are going to be off the table this year due to physical distancing,” Simmons said.

Simmons said he thinks they will sell just as many, if not more oysters this year but instead of large events, it will be for 6-10 people to steam and enjoy in someone’s backyard.

“There will be a lot more of that I think,” he said.

Simmons said most people from the area knows what to expect at an oyster roast.

“And people that just moved here or haven’t been to an oyster roast like ours before — it doesn’t take them long to catch on,” he said. “I can remember oyster roasts in the backyard when I was 8 years old. Those were just part of what we know and love here.”

Biologist Ben Dyar, who is the head of SCDNR’s shellfish management program, said some more beds are closed this year due to assessment of shellfish grounds for recreational and commercial harvesting.

SCDNR does visual inspections as well as evaluating how many oysters are harvested the year prior to determine which areas they can open for an upcoming season.

“Closing those areas will allow them to regrow, and hopefully be able to be harvested the following season,” Dyar said. “We have really good recruitment in South Carolina, meaning that our oysters spawn very well and we have a lot of baby oysters in the water that grow well.”

Dyar said the only way to grow the beds are either limit the number harvesters or open and close grounds. But since SCDNR does not have the statutory or legal authority to limit the number of harvesters, they have to restrict the oyster beds.

Dyar said they try not to factor in predictions of how many oysters will be consumed in a single year. Instead, they base their plans around how many oysters were harvested the past three years on average in an area.

Dyar said they strictly based their decisions on the sustainability of harvesting a bed.

Simmons has several commercial leases as a harvester and dealer. He said that he is responsible for working closely with SCDNR to make sure he reseeds his oyster beds appropriately by culling oysters in place or putting recycled shells on the banks for new organisms to grow on.

Dyar explains that culling in place means that when someone harvests oysters, they should only take clusters with large oysters and to take a metal tool such as a hammer to knock off dead or smaller oysters so they can continue growing where they were found.

“You knock those off, they land right in the mud and those will continue to create a habitat for next year’s oysters in the years after,” he shared.

Provided/Simmons Seafood 

A large single oyster at Simmons Seafood.

Dyar encourages harvesting oysters over three inches long, although it is not required. He explained this also makes it easier to shuck and eat them.

Magwood explains that he and Simmons pay special attention to this when harvesting oysters to maintain the growth of the oysters. But, if he breaks an oyster on the bank when culling, he eats it immediately. He said he considers it bad luck to waste an oyster if you accidentally crack it open when picking.

Dyar said the only limit for recreational harvesting is that you have to pick on a state or public shellfish ground that is marked as open on maps on the SCDNR website. Also, you must have an active saltwater fishing license.

“It’s really a great experience to be able to go out and get into the natural resources and get kind of a different perspective. From that kind of marsh perspective instead of the road, or always driving over the bridge or always driving past the marsh; to actually get out in it,” Dyar said.

He said he loves fishing, but there is something unique about the feeling of standing in mud, getting dirty to collect oysters and then the rewarding feeling of taking the oysters back to cook however you like.

“To have that have that resource is extremely important and something we (DNR) hold dear to our hearts. Obviously it is one of our highest honors to be able to manage that resource for the public enjoyment and the commercial resources as well,” he said.

Magwood said that anyone with a saltwater fishing license has the right to pick oysters on a public bed, just like they have the right to cast a net to get fresh shrimp.

“I encourage anybody to get out there to get some fresh air and go do what they want to do. That’s the freedom we have. And there’s such great things here in Charleston,” Magwood said.

He said picking oysters is a lot easier than people think and that it is good for people to get out and learn new things. But he said that it’s important to remember that the hospital isn’t next door.

“Just be very careful and don’t cut yourself because usually if you cut yourself it’s a long ways from somebody to help you,” Magwood said. “Also, make sure you step on some hard shells. Don’t step out in the puff mud because you might not get your boots back.”

He said it could ruin a day if you have to spend time trying to pull your boots out of the mud.

Magwood does not know of any local charters that takes people to pick oysters due to the high risk, but said he is always willing to take someone on a boat ride to see what it takes to get fresh seafood.

Fried oysters are his favorite, but he said oysters on the half shell or oyster stew are other good ways to make them. Magwood has been happy to see more local restaurants carrying local oysters and more oyster bars in the area over the past ten years.

After eating oysters, SCDNR encourages recycling the shells needed for regrowth of the beds at one of their 30 public drop off locations, in 12 counties statewide, which are on also listed on their website.

“You put your shells in one of those bins that’s nearest you and we will take 100% of the shell that is recycled with us and we put back out in the water during summer months onto the marsh,” Dyar said. “In the next season when they’re spawning, they’ll grow new oysters. It helps to manage this species and to keep that habitat going.”

“Not only are these oysters, a cultural and historical importance in South Carolina, and play a deep-seated role in both of those areas but they’re extremely important ecologically as well,” he said.

Dyar said this is why they manage this resource so closely and motivate people to recycle them.

“One single adult oyster can filter up to 70 gallons of water a day. When we rebuild an oyster reef, we put back shell back about three bushels per 10 square feet. Now, when that same 10 square feet becomes an adult oyster reef it might have almost 1,500 oysters just within that 10 square feet,” Dyar said.

Meaning that recycling just three bushels of oysters could create 1,500 new oysters that are each filtering between 50-70 gallons of water every day.

Dyar said in addition to filtering water, oysters also create erosion barriers for marshes and provide a vitally important habitat for over 100 different species within South Carolina estuaries. Oysters are a keystone species for estuaries of the state providing a nursery system for offshore species that come inland to pre-produce.

He also explained that 95% of the state’s oysters along the coastline are intertidal, meaning half the time they live in the water and the other half they are subtidal, or underwater, within the zone they live. Dyar said this is a unique characteristic to South Carolina. In places where they only grow subtidal, harvesters have to use tongs and hand devices. Fortunately, here you can pick them with just your hands and a bucket.

He wasn’t sure if this changes the flavor of an oyster, but said that his favorite way to eat them is steamed at an oyster roast in the backyard with his family and friends.

“I definitely would put South Carolina oysters up there against any in the nation,” Dyar said. “I believe the brine and the salt are bar none.”

Bishop England honoring former soccer standout with Russ Bus fundraiser

You could hear it from one end line other.

“BUS!” Russell McLaughlin would shout. The center back was the leader of Bishop England’s defense, the leader of the team really. The rest of the Bishops would react accordingly.

Bus is a strategy in soccer that organizes the defense in an effort to secure its advantage. Bishop England regularly employed the strategy, often ahead late in games. And McLaughlin was the catalyst. He would call it, loud and often enough that he earned the nickname Russ Bus, which evolved to mean far more than any soccer strategy within the Bishops program.

Bishop England is hoping the nickname continues to resonate with generations to come as it plans to mint its next student-activity bus The Russ Bus in honor of the 2019 graduate who passed away this summer in an unfortunate drowning incident.

“He’s always been a leader because of his work ethic,” Bishop England coach Ed Khouri said this summer. “He was a perfectionist, a no-nonsense kind of player that raised the bar for everyone else. He was always a hard worker that gave it his all. He grew up in our program and contributed to it as much as anyone.”

Bishop England’s athletic department has needed a new bus for years. Its best bus, affectionately referred to as the Father Kelly Express, is 15 years old. It’s transported hundreds of state champions over the years but lately has spent just as much time in the shop as it has on the road. And because Bishop England often has so many different teams traveling throughout the state, that bus is hardly ever enough and leaves many teams either carpooling to championship games, renting transportation or filing onto one of the school’s microbuses.

“We’ve been putting Band-Aids on top of Band-Aids and kicking the tires for years,” Bishop England athletic director Paul Runey said. “A bus is something we’ve desperately needed for a long time.”

The school was thinking of ways to honor McLaughlin with different memorials or maybe a plaque or something like that. Then someone suggested the Russ Bus, “and everyone knew immediately that was it,” Runey said.

A new bus, though, carries a $150,000 price tag. So the school went to work on a fundraiser that’s already collected more than $90,000 in donations from families, the booster club, alumni, members of the Daniel Island community and even students, who besides donating their own money, have also come up with different ideas for stickers or bake sales, car washes, all types of things that have contributed to the goal as well.

“I think it goes to show you what Russ meant to the Bishop England family,” Runey said. “Everyone has really gotten behind this and that’s a testament to how important he was to this school and how strong of a family our community really is.”

The bus will take a few months to be delivered once it is ordered. It will be a brand news Thomas Built model that will hold roughly 50 passengers, the largest and nicest in the Bishops’ fleet. There will be several unique touches. It will include all the new bells and whistles and will be wrapped with a custom design rather than painted as in years past. Somewhere near the front, for everyone to see, it will be stamped with its name, The Russ Bus.

“It’s a really good feeling to see so many people getting behind this in his honor,” Runey said. “Kids often live weekend to weekend but in this case I think they realize the importance of remembering Russ. That’s the most important thing.

“We keep buses for at least 20 years. So Russ will be rolling down the road with Bishop England and his teammates in more than one way for a long time to come.”

To donate, visit behs.com/russ-bus.

Shem Creek Bar & Grill sells for $4.9 million

On Sept. 30, Shem Creek Bar & Grill sold for $4.9 million, according to reports by The Post and Courier.

The longtime restaurant on Shem Creek, located at 508 Mill St. was opened in 1984.

The Post and Courier wrote the restaurant will be purchased by longtime Charleston restaurateur John Keener, who will change the name of the restaurant to Shem Creek Crab House when it reopens in October after some minor repairs are complete.

The menu is expected to mirror Charleston Crab House which Keener owns on James Island and downtown, along with some new additions.

Most Shem Creek Bar & Grill employees have agreed to return under the new ownership, and Keener plans to double the workforce.

Cecilia's Scoop: Update on the ongoing road construction in Park West

Q: “Can you find out what is going on with the road construction in Park West? This has to be one of the longest projects I have ever seen. There is never anyone working on it and it looks like all of the equipment has now been removed from the work site. What was supposed to help with the traffic to Wando has now made it worse.”

Jimmy Lamb, Mount Pleasant

A: “The Town issued a notice to proceed for construction in July 2019 with final completion in January 2021 for an 18-month project duration. The contract is behind schedule approximately six weeks due to the weather, COVID-19, utility relocations and a pretty bad survey bust.

For the first year of the project the contractor did not have one full week of work without rain and due to the nature of the soils in Park West you typically lose three days for one day of rain. We will likely grant a 6-week extension to the contractor for this if it is requested. Additionally, the pandemic has slowed the contractor down somewhat due to key personnel having to quarantine or otherwise miss work.

Currently, the contractor is waiting on AT&T to relocate a major fiber optic line that is holding up the completion of storm drain installation and, finally, there was a survey error that caused the removal of curb that resulted in a two-week delay and is on the critical path to paving.

Going forward, paving of the new lanes should begin next week, weather dependent. After the new lanes are paved, traffic will be switched to those lanes while the existing lanes are milled, paved and widened to add bike lanes. Final paving with all lanes open to traffic should be complete in December with permanent pavement markings, landscaping, irrigation, lighting, and project clean-up occurring December through March.”

Daniel Williamson, Town of Mount Pleasant, Transportation Project Engineer