By Melissa Locker
Geechee Red Pea
Terry Manier
| Credit: Terry Manier

Sapelo Island is a 16,500-acre swath of land that sits about 60 miles down from Savannah. Reachable only by boat, the barrier island, Georgia's fourth largest, has long been a home to a diverse population of Geechees, the descendants of the slaves who were brought there in the 1800s and called the island home ever since.

The residents of the 434-acre Hog Hammock community on Sapelo Island, Georgia, were the recent subject of a Southern Foodways Alliance film by director Joe York. The short film documented the Geechee culture, their gorgeous island surroundings, and their fervent love of a little red pea, which might be the secret to keeping their little community alive.

The so-called Geechee Red Pea is one of Sapelo's main crops, thanks to the hard work of island resident Cornelia Walker Bailey along with her son and daughter-in-law. They are using the heritage pea, whose roots trace back to Sierra Leone, as a source of income and as a means of inspiring their neighbors to invest in their own land, according to Eater. They have planted a large organic farm, called Georgia Coastal Gourmet, where they grow and dry the peas, heirloom tomatoes and peppers, and a lot more.

Their Sapelo Island Geechee Red Pea Project is both a labor of love of the little red peas, as well as for Sapelo Island itself. As Dolores Walker, says in the film, "We love our island, it's precious to us… just as precious to us as a newborn baby, and we're going to save our land no matter what… with this little ol' teeny tiny thing called the little red pea."

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While it's well worth hopping a boat to visit Sapelo Island, you don't need to be there to support the Geechee Red Pea project. You can order the peas, which cook up beautifully, online, as well as some of their other produce.