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A harvesting program helps basket makers combat the diminishing supply of native grasses.
Sweetgrass once filled the Lowcountry, offering ample supply for the Gullah-Geechee community who had been weaving baskets from it for some 300 years. But that was before development ran rampant. “Today, many of the locations where grass used to grow have been replaced by bricks and mortar,” says Thomasena Stokes-Marshall, Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association (SCAFA) executive director. “Without the raw materials, how can basket makers continue this ancient art form?”
Luckily, some of the city’s major organizations are stepping in to help. In 2009, SCAFA founded the Sweetgrass Harvesting Program, partnering with the Town of Mount Pleasant, Mount Pleasant Waterworks, and three other large, but secret, locations where the plant grows. “They allow us to bring folks in on harvesting trips from July to November,” says Stokes-Marshall. “Each person pays $25—funds that help maintain the grass—and they can harvest as much as they’re able in two hours.”
Each participant is also asked to give a basket to SCAFA that’s then donated to East Cooper Meals on Wheels or Habitat for Humanity fundraising auctions. Sounds like a full circle of giving back to the community where the seeds for sweetgrass art are sewn.