Sidi Limehouse

Sidi Limehouse (pronounced “sigh dye”) is a man with deep Lowcountry roots. His early mercantile ancestors settled in Charleston in the 1700s and spread out from there. When he came into the world on Johns Island in December of 1938, his father celebrated by purchasing Mullet Hall Plantation on Johns Island across from Kiawah Island. It was a child’s paradise, growing up in that fairly remote environment that even lacked electricity early on. An environment far from today’s nearby mix of luxury homes, golf resorts, and elegant vacation destinations in Seabrook and Kiawah.

Limehouse studied Agricultural Engineering at Clemson University and graduated in 1960. He started his career growing corn and soybeans on the family farm but eventually transitioned from row crops to truck farming. From 1967–68 and 1971–72 he served in the South Carolina state legislature but found that politics took too much time away from farming. “I soon realized,” he says, “that one could not be both a good legislator and a good farmer. I believe I chose the nobler profession.”

Today Limehouse operates Rosebank Farms on sixty acres of leased land that produces over fifty crops including fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Most of the crops are sold to GrowFood Carolina, a local food distributor specializing in selling directly to Charleston restaurants and local grocery stores and suppliers. Limehouse says, “Rosebank Farms is known throughout our area and by chefs as a unique farm that displays consistency and quality.”

For the last thirty years Rosebank Farms has also operated its road-side stand in various sequential locations, open from April through December; sales represent 80 percent of the enterprise’s total revenue. Over the last several decades they’ve sold produce, flowers, and other products at many farmers markets around the county and currently sell at the Folly Beach Market during the summer months.

Limehouse says, “We focus on local and sell everything we grow: arugula, basil, lettuce, English peas, snow peas, sugar snaps, asparagus, seasonal greens, potatoes, hot and sweet peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, green beans, summer and winter squash, sweet corn, beets, carrots, broccoli and broccolini, okra, cantaloupes, watermelons, heirloom pumpkins, tomatoes, and seasonal cut flowers. Zinnias are a summer mainstay and hydrangeas in the late spring and early summer.”

Rosebank Farms’ yields are: 4 acres of tomatoes: 1500 cartons; 4 acres of potatoes: 410 bags; 6 acres of sweet corn: 20 cartons; 3 acres of beans: 200 bushels; 3 acres of peas – sugar, snap, and English: 180 cartons; 1 acre of Jerusalem artichokes: 10,000 lbs.; 4 acres of watermelons: 400; 3 acres of peppers: 3,000 crates.

Limehouse was a pioneer in growing crops that no one else in South Carolina wanted to explore or invest in. He experimented and had great success growing “California” crops such as mesclun, arugula, and basil. He also considers it a priority to support the entire local agricultural community and often depends on neighbor family farmers for produce in the busiest seasons and helps them sell theirs. Rosebank Farms sources strawberries, blueberries, peaches, honey, eggs, and even shrimp and fish caught nearby.

Limehouse adds, “We have a local baker who makes banana nut bread that flies off the shelves. Homemade pimiento cheese, cocktail sauce, and tomato pies are regular favorites. At Christmas the staff at Rosebank Farms sells North Carolina Christmas trees and makes custom wreaths and garland from native materials. Limehouse adds, “We sell other local products that include Clemson Blue Cheese and Geechie Boy grits and rice. After all, what’s a Southern market without grits and rice?”

For this dedicated farmer, being a good steward of the land has always meant protecting and improving soil quality. He says, “We received the Jane Elizabeth Lareau Environmental Stewardship Award in 2018. In 2015, Rosebank Farms was the recipient of the Charleston County Soil and Water Conservation District’s Conservationist of the Year award. We protect native pollinators, thereby reducing our overall insecticide use and increasing our yields.”

On Rosebank Farms, eight flower varieties—annual and perennial—are planted along the ditch banks, drive rows, roads, and in every unused space on the farm. Limehouse says, “I actually have 3,000 hydrangea plants growing around the house.” This practice has resulted in extremely effective pollinator and monarch butterfly habitat. “We also practice crop rotation, use cover crops to help build soils, and employ drip irrigation to save water.”

As huge supporters of Clemson University, Limehouse and his staff rely on the Extension Service and have partnered with them and the Clemson Vegetable Researchers in hosting on-farm research projects such as grafted tomato variety trials, disease and insect monitoring, and resistance screenings. He supported the Lowcountry Local First Apprentice Farmer Program, providing technical expertise, equipment share, and labor to new farmers. He’s also trained a number of apprentices who’ve become successful in both traditional and organic agriculture. All over the county he lends equipment to other farms and donates space in his packing shed and cooler.

Limehouse is Founder and President of Friends of the Kiawah River, an organization formed to protect the Kiawah River Basin from the hazards of development. It works closely with the Coastal Conservation League and the South Carolina Environmental law Program protecting the barrier islands.

Being from the “old school” that advocates never wasting food or knowingly letting one’s fellow human beings go hungry, Limehouse says, “For years we donated to the Lowcountry Food Bank. Today we support the Wadmalaw Community Center, the Hebron Jewish Center, Rosebank Farms Senior Citizens Center on Johns Island, and the Stone Fruit Soup Kitchen in Charleston, all of which provide cooked meals to people in need.”

None of this success would have been possible without the dedicated help of Sidi Limehouse’s lifelong partner, Louise Bennett, and their long-term staff of five employees at Rosebank Farms. Sidi and Louise met at a party in the 1960s. She was the one preparing the outstanding food the guests were sampling. He said he wanted to meet the cook, and that was the beginning of a happy fifty-year relationship and partnership.

Raised in Manning, South Carolina, Louise came from a family that had farmed tobacco, corn, and soybeans. Through her avid love of flowers and innovative cultivation practices, she’s become a sought-after speaker on gardening and flower arranging and currently demonstrates cooking with local vegetables to small groups in private homes.

Rosebank Farms’ four field workers—a family unit originally from Guatemala— work the land and stock the farm stand daily during the season. Limehouse says, “Our staff is made up of loyal, hard-working, trustworthy people who have been with us for a long time. We’re like a family,” he adds, “and we look after each other in ways that go far beyond just an employer/employee relationship.”

At 80, Limehouse remembers, “I used to hunt deer, turkey, and ducks. I still go fishing sometimes, but, generally speaking, I outgrew killing things.” Though he can’t always do the heavy lifting he used to, he comments with a chuckle, “I do a lot of pointing.” But he continues to work six (and sometimes seven) days a week because he enjoys it. “I kept saying, ‘I’m going to retire one day.’ Well, I did retire for one day, and the next day I got up and said, ‘The heck with this; I’m going back to work!” He adds, “The last day of my life I want to die penniless, but not the day before.”

On the lessons that farming has taught him, Limehouse says, “You have to pay attention. To everything. And stay ahead of the game. First thing each morning, I get on my tractor and go look at all the crops, inspect all the plantings, and see what needs help and what’s alright. You’ve got to get up and go and stay on it in this way of life.”

Sidi Limehouse was nominated for Farmer of the Year by Zack Snipes, who works for Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. Zack comments, “Working with Sidi Limehouse over the last six years has helped me grow as an agent in many ways. He’s so receptive to ideas from others and, in his humble way, gives generously to the community out of the goodness of his heart. He’s also one heck of a talented farmer, a pioneer, and a real leader.”

As the South Carolina winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Limehouse will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Florida, a $500 gift certificate from Southern States cooperative and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply. Limehouse is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize awarded to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include use of a tractor for a year from MF Product, another $500 gift certificate from Southern States, a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply, a smoker-grill from Hays LTI, and a Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute edition 22 rifle from Reinke Manufacturing Co., Inc., the irrigation company, through its partnership with Henry Repeating Arms.

Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the thirtieth consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,120,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.
Other previous state winners from South Carolina include: Earl Thrailkill of Fort Lawn, 1990; Charles Snowden of Hemingway, 1991; Robert E. Connelly, Sr. of Ulmer, 1992; Henry Elliott, Sr. of Andrews, 1993; Ron Stephenson of Chester, 1994; Greg Hyman of Conway, 1995; Randy Lovett of Nichols, 1996; David Drew of Mullins, 1997; Jerry Edge of Conway, 1998; Blake McIntyre, III of Marion, 1999; Raymond Galloway of Darlington, 2000; W. R. Simpson of Manning, 2001; Gill Rogers of Hartsville, 2002; Harold Pitts of Newberry, 2003; Earl Thrailkill of Fort Lawn, 2004; Chalmers Carr of Ridge Spring, 2005; Steve Gamble of Sardinia, 2006; William Johnson of Conway, 2007; Kent Wannamaker of St. Matthews, 2008; Thomas DuRant of Gable, 2009; Marty Easler of Greeleyville, 2010; Kevin Elliott of Nichols, 2011; Monty Rast of Cameron, 2012; James Cooley of Chesnee, 2013; Walter Dantzler of Santee, 2014; Tom Trantham of Pelzer, 2015; and Kerry Owen of Pickens, 2016; Kemp McLeod of McBee, 2017; and Kevin Yon of Ridge Spring, 2018.

A distinguished panel of judges will visit Rosebank Farms, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of August 5–9. The judges this year include Cary Lightsey, Lake Wales, Florida, who was the overall winner of the award in 2009; John McKissick, long-time University of Georgia agricultural economist at Athens, Georgia; and David Wildey, Manila, Arkansas, the overall winner of the award in 2016.