Shake the Hand that Feeds You: Bear Island Farm

A placed called bountiful: Bear Island Farm, Bluffton, SC.

While my recent ruminations on Hilton Head Island farmers, farmers markets and eating local and in-season have been playing out here in my blog, I now find summer knocking on the door. This started me thinking of summer’s past when, in between beach weekends spent along the coast, my days consisted of doing chores around the house and garden and hanging out with my childhood best friend Nancy. Nancy and I shared a lot of similarities: we lived within about 1 mile of each other, we attended the same church and the same school, and we both had 3 older sisters and 1 younger brother – both of whom drove us crazy as we entered our preteen years – as younger brothers tend to do. However, as close as we were (and our families too), the big difference between us was that Nancy’s family were farmers. Sure we had a vegetable garden, my Mother ‘put up’ all manner of vegetables, fruits and the like every year and we even raised quail once, but Nancy’s family were honest to goodness farmers – growing soy beans, corn and hay. This was their sole livelihood.

At the time I did not truly understand what this meant. I just knew that Nancy’s Dad went to work really early in morning, they ate their big meal at dinner (rural southerner’s call lunch ‘dinner’) and once I was old enough I’d get to ride in the huge green tractor with wheels as tall as a house that they called a combine. Looking back I now realize how hard farming must have been, both physically challenging and mentally stressful as Mother Nature is not one to be second-guessed, even for the most well-prepared and seasoned farmer. So I find myself a little perplexed but at the same time in awe of those hearty souls with the fortitude to venture into farming.

Bear Island Farm's got basil! And expects a good crop of interesting tomato varietals (and other veggies) later in the summer too.

There are a growing number of farmers popping up in and around Hilton Head Island. As I have mentioned in past posts there are now two excellent farmers markets (Bluffton Farmers Market and the Hilton Head Island Farmers Market) within easy reach of Island locals and visitors. Bear Island Farm, located in Bluffton, has been mentioned by more than one of my previous feature restaurants as not only a new venture but also as a recycler of commercial kitchen green waste. So I simply had to call the owner, Jamie Vidich, to find out more.

Jamie told me that the farm was in the planning stages for a year and really started with the first plantings this past January. While they are not certified organic yet, they are striving to reach this milestone. Organic certification normally takes several years to attain. Jamie, who is a graduate of Boston University, became intrigued with farming while working for Earth University in Atlanta. He said, “Part of my interest was the agricultural aspect and part was working in partnership with my brother on land owned by my family. My Mother and several other relatives are from Bluffton.”

Bear Island Farm has about ½ acre planted this season with plans to double and eventually grow to 2-3 acres. Their composting efforts have been paying off as well and with the help of some hungry earthworms and local restaurants, Christine’s Café and WiseGuys, veggie scraps that would have been thrown into a landfill, will instead be sowed into the soil to help grow some great heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and herbs. Jamie tells he hopes for a bountiful crop of slicer, paste and sauce tomatoes this summer. “Our heirloom varieties include Williams Striped, Green Velvet and some Italian varieties such as Costoluto Fiorentino (a Florentine beefsteak) and San Marzano (an Italian plum tomato),” he added. I can honestly say that if Jamie’s enthusiasm for his farm is an indicator of his skills we should expect plentiful and delicious crops. You can meet the folks from Bear Island Farm, shake their hand for stepping up to family farming and purchase their produce at the Bluffton Farmers Market (Thursday afternoons) and the Hilton Head Island Farmers Market (Friday mornings). Or if you have questions about Bear Island Farm produce and harvest dates check out their Facebook page.

Even though we are eagerly anticipating this year’s tomato crop, Jamie has lots of herbs right now including cinnamon basil that adds a piquant tang to this recipe, straight from Bear Island Farm: Quinoa Butternut Squash Pilaf.

Bear Island Farm basil plants - a near perfect summer herb!

Genovese basil goes great in all kinds of Italian dishes, but what about cinnamon basil? After some experimental cooking at Bear Island Farm, we’ve discovered that it adds a basily sweet tang to sweet vegetable dishes, such as this summery pilaf.

Quinoa Butternut Squash Pilaf

  • 1 cup of quinoa, dry
  • 1 tbs oil
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1/2 veggie bouillon cube
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Sauté the quinoa in oil on medium low heat, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the water, bouillon and raisins, turn heat to low, and let simmer until water is completely absorbed, covered.


  • 1 butternut squash
  • 2 tbs melted butter or olive oil
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 3 tbs brown sugar

Peel and cube a butternut squash, removing the seeds. Place in a bowl and coat with oil, adding spices, salt and sugar and tossing to coat. Bake in the oven at 450 degrees until soft and slightly browned at the edges, about 15 minutes.


  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 tbs butter or cooking oil
  • Several sprigs of fresh cinnamon basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Sauté the onion and celery in the oil until tender. Add the cinnamon basil and the chopped pecans or walnuts and stir for 1 minute, then remove from heat.

Mix the quinoa, the butternut squash and the sautéed onions and celery into a serving bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy.