Sam Bellamy is one of five generations who’ve worked around 200 acres of farmland spanning the North and South Carolina border along South Carolina Highway 57. But now, Indigo Farms is in the crosshairs as officials are in the planning stages of South Carolina Highway 31's extension into North Carolina.
Six of the nine proposed routes for the Carolina Bays Parkway project could impact the Bellamy land where the surrounding community comes to pick strawberries and buy organic produce.
“The worst thing is you’ve got soil that you work with a long time,” Bellamy said. “You don’t just pick up and go to another piece of land and get the same results. That soil is like your lifeblood, so I don’t know. That’s hard to say what we would do. But I put my trust in providence and in God, and when situations come, I seek counsel and do what I’ve got to do.”
The old farmhand is already worried about the future of agriculture in general. Several of the project’s proposed routes could turn his farm into another in a long line of agricultural operations that have been disappearing over the last several decades.
“One of the things I’ve come to realize is everybody has opinions,” he said. “They’re equal, and really, you just have to respect different people’s opinions. But when it comes to beliefs, that’s a different story. A belief is something you put to the test, you try it. You gain confidence in it and you act on it. If you carry it far enough, you’ll come to where you have beliefs that you know are true, and they become convictions. And those are the ones you live by. In 65 years, I’ve come to some strong beliefs. And one of them is agriculture is really in trouble.”
Over the years, the size and productivity of farms have increased while the number of farms has decreased, a result food being viewed as little more than just another product. In 1935, there were almost 7 million farms in the United States, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Now, there are barely more than 2 million.
Bellamy lamented the decline of farming, and the future generations of kids who won’t grow up learning valuable life lessons about the responsibility of nurturing living beings, whether they be animals or crops.
“Life asks questions, and on the farm, you’re confronted with those questions rather boldly,” he said. “I have seen the miracle of new life and tragedy of death on the same day. And those are big things. So what I’m saying is our generation of kids, they don’t have this. And part of it is because we’ve gone to this mindset of economically deciding ‘well, this is more important,’ and we’ve transformed agriculture from being something that represents family well-being and stability and security to a nation, to simply a shared commodity. Totally impersonal.”
Bellamy isn’t the only one who could be affected by the $552 million project that extends S.C. Highway 31 from its current endpoint at Highway 9 to Highway 17 in Shallote, North Carolina. Hundreds of people came to Sunset Beach, North Carolina for the first of two public meetings SC and NCDOT officials held this week to gather public input on where the route might go. Citizens were invited to come choose which route they preferred. The second meeting is Wednesday in Little River.
“We don’t want to study something that the public is going to be highly opposed to,” said NCDOT Division 3 Project Manager Krista Kimmel. “We want to have that public input and public backing for what we’re doing.”
Little River resident Virginia Warren could also be impacted by several of the proposed routes. Two routes impact property that’s been in her family for more than 100 years. Her grandfather was born in a cabin on that tract of land, she said. Another route impacts her own house at Windjammer Village just south of the state line.
“I’m concerned that the property that’s been in my family since the 1800s is about to be taken over by a highway that I feel we don’t need,” Warren said. “You can’t put a price tag on memories and history.”
Warren eventually decided that she’d rather have the route that could impact her own house. “Take my home, but please don’t take my history,” she added.
Real estate agent Grace Schroeder was at the meeting gathering information on behalf of a buyer interested in some property in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina.
“Right now, I’m in the process of selling a lot that’s right on Highway 17,” Schroeder said. “The buyer is in his due diligence period, and of course you want to make sure he has all the material facts, and this is one of those. I don’t want him to buy something he’s going to have to turn around and sell to this project, because he’s trying to start up a business.”
Indigo Farms is also a business with a very public front. The farm serves as a direct market where people can purchase organic produce, locally-made apple cider and local honey from a beekeeper who keeps his colony on the property.
The farm “means a lot of memories for a lot of people,” Bellamy said. “It means a local organic food source that won’t be here. It would be the end of pick-your-own-strawberries and things of that sort. You’re not going to duplicate those things easily. People oftentimes have the attitude of ‘I can buy stuff at the grocery store.’ But whether they realize it or not, 50 percent or more of what’s in the grocery store is actually produced outside this country. People do not realize what kind of state agriculture is in.”
Bellamy will have to wait a couple years before he knows if the road project will force him to close the farm or move to a new location.
The two states will decide on a final route for the road in 2021. South Carolina, which has funded its $185 million section with Horry County's RIDE III tax, is scheduled to start property acquisitions in 2022.
North Carolina currently does not have funding for its $367 million obligation, but officials are prioritizing the road for future funding. The roads’ completion date has not been determined.
The public can give their input until January 10, 2020. Visit ncdot.gov to learn more about the proposed routes.