McCORMICK — Nestled back in the wooded area surrounding the South Carolina Governor’s School for Agriculture at John de la Howe is its education center. Since the school was designated a state’s governor’s school, it has performed community outreach from this building.
“Our goal is to educate everyone about agriculture,” said Kinsley Miller, director of the education center.
The school hosts monthly workshops that are open to the community and let residents take home what they make.
“We’ve filled up our last three workshops,” Miller said. “They’re not just learning how to make something, but they are able to take it home.”
The past two workshops included a wreath-making session for the holidays in December and a soap-making workshop in January. The latest installment was a sweetgrass basket workshop taught by Michael Smalls and Dino Badger.
Smalls, a seventh-generation basket weaver, learned basket weaving from his great-grandmother. Her mother was an enslaved worker on Mt. Pleasant’s Laurel Hill Plantation.
Sweetgrass basket weaving is a longtime Gullah tradition. Brought to the Lowcountry of South Carolina by enslaved Africans, the basket was first used as a tool to harvest rice and other materials. It is now mainly used for decorative purposes.
Smalls stressed the importance of teaching the craft of basket weaving as preserving culture and history.
“If you embrace your past, you know where you are going,” Smalls said. “The baskets are a link to the past that have evolved into an art form.”
Pat Snow, who attended the workshop, said she bought one of Smalls’ sweetgrass bowls in Charleston.
“I wanted to come learn to make my own,” she said.
Each table had scissors, a tool to help pull the sweetgrass through loops and a sweetgrass bundle Smalls or Badger started.
“Starting is the hardest part, so we already did that for you,” Smalls said while explaining the technique.
Smalls sees an importance in John de la Howe’s new role.
“Teaching to grow gardens, taking it back to doing things naturally, it’s bringing us back,” he said.
De la Howe’s next workshop will be on making duck calls. The date has not been set.
Tim Keown, superintendent of de la Howe, said the education center “is an extension of the community.”
“Our goal is to give back to the state,” he said. “We want South Carolina to see our beautiful campus through our workshops.”
De la Howe is open for field trips from South Carolina schools that want to tour the 1,310-acre campus. The governor’s school is also planning weeklong summer camps for eighth- and ninth-graders and day camps for younger children.
The community has rallied around de la Howe’s new identity. The McCormick Garden Club is working on horticultural classes for students and decorated the residence halls.
De la Howe’s Student Council adopted two families from McCormick for Christmas, providing gifts to the families.
Any student in South Carolina who has an interest in agriculture can apply to the South Carolina Governor’s School of Agriculture at John de la Howe.