Pat Beichler wipes fresh goat cheese from her hands as she gives an upbeat progress report on Daufuskie Island's community "farm."
She's 16 months into the project designed to raise community spirits as much as goats, guineas and gourds. On an island with no bridge and many divisions, the farm was seeded on fertile ground.
"It was a piece of woods a year ago," Beichler said.
Now it is a meeting place. A simple Monday lunch there has turned into a potluck meal with food coming from many kitchens.
The farm now has almost 10 buildings, milled by hand from island trees. It has a barn with enough room to someday host a community barn dance, Beichler said.
If that sounds out of character for Daufuskie's mix of Gullah natives, independent-minded old-timers and well-heeled newcomers, fancy this. Nineteen Daufuskie women -- most of them from the upscale Haig Point residential development -- recently graduated from goat-cheese-making school at Jeremiah Farm & Goat Dairy on Johns Island near Charleston. I'm not sure that was on many bucket lists when these ladies bought into a new life on the quiet island off the southern tip of Hilton Head Island.
Beichler put up the seed money for the farm from her savings. She has nurtured the concept into a reality that includes 14 goats, a cow and 2-month-old calf, chickens, ducks, guineas and bees.
"We don't sell anything," Beichler said. Members -- now almost 100 -- swap or share whatever is ripe. They sponsor animals by paying for their upkeep. They donate labor. And they give money. On Wednesday, Beichler harvested a bumper crop of money. People gave cash donations totalling $10,000, which will help pay for the sawmill and a well for the farm.
Beichler, a 72-year-old they call "Ms. Pat," put down anchor on Daufuskie 15 years ago when she built her own house by hand. "I am home," she said. "I don't leave. I never leave."
She's a cardiovascular nurse practitioner who has worked a long time for Haig Point. But she grew up in the dairy farm country of northern Maryland and knows well that farming is hard work, and it never takes a day off.
She hopes the fledgling community farm can make Daufuskie more sustainable and less dependent on ferries to haul in all necessities. She hopes the farm spawns more farms, gardens and chicken coops. She hopes for more healthy food.
"It's our farm," she said. "It's everybody's farm."
She can already see it producing less "us" and "them" and more "we."