Proud to be a Farmer: Sapelo Sea Farms

Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 10:13 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 25, 2023 at 10:41 AM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Georgia is blessed with a climate that allows a tremendous opportunity for farmers in the area.

However, in today’s world, not all farmers in southeast Georgia grow their crops in the dirt. Meet Capt. Charlie Phillips, owner of the Sapelo Sea Farms. The oldest and largest clam and oyster farm in Georgia.

“We’re aquaculture. So, we are farmers. One of the differences between us and land-based is we use no pesticides, no herbicides. No, any kind of chemicals. All the clams do is eat algae and clean the water,” Capt. Phillips said.

Aside from growing in and underwater, another untraditional aspect of this industry is that with clams there is no official season. You can harvest anytime, if you can brave the elements. Sounds good right? Well like most things’ sea-related, there’s a catch.

“Our crops take a lot longer. You know, they’re going to get a crop up in a few months. Like I said it’s going to take me two years or more. So, people say, boy thats a long time to grow a clam. I say yeah, but it’s quicker than pine trees,” Capt. Phillips said.

It’s not easy labor either, harvest and seeding starts each day out on the water. Where workers trek through around 2 to 3 feet of mud to place and remove the product. From there, these are taken back to the dock to be cleaned, sorted, and quality control checked before they are packaged and shipped.

“As far as clams go, and oysters’ um we work six days a week pretty much. We’re pulling clams Sunday through Friday we’ve got trucks going out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,” Capt. Phillips said.

As you can see, it takes a village to make the whole process operate smoothly. Capt. Phillips says everything he’s accomplished in this industry has come through trial and error since day one.

“So, we planted them on Four Mile, on a sand bar. Which was absolutely the worst place you’d ever want to grow stuff. And in a hard black plastic bag, which is not the optimum bag to grow stuff in. So, the first thing we learned how to do is kill clams, we got really good at killing clams and then we started doing everything else. and figuring out how to make them grow,” Capt. Phillips said.

While it’s not a perfect process, Capt. Phillips is always working with local universities and government officials to learn about how this ecosystem is developing over time, and to find more efficient methods of growing. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s a great office on a good day, and a terrible one and it’s a terrible office on a bad day when it’s raining cold and the bugs out but it’s what we do,” he said.