Meeting offers new opportunities for local farmers
In a packed room at Brown's Barbeque the Pee Dee region farming community gathered to learn about infrastructure and programs designed to serve the needs of small to mid-sized farmers.
Representatives from the Rural Resource Coalition SC (RRCSC), SC Wildlife Federation, USDA StrikeForce Initiative, GrowFood Carolina and Millgrove Farms highlighted new tools available to the Kingstree local growing community. Agenda topics included networking opportunities, low-interest loans, local produce distribution infrastructure, and marketing and technical expertise.
Jack Shuler, co-chairman for the RRCSC, highlighted the coalition's mission of capitalizing on the state's human and natural resources in order to improve the quality of life for all citizens by promoting sustainable economic development in rural communities.
The coalition consists of representatives from the affordable housing, agriculture, community development, conservation, forestry, heirs' property and tourism sectors. In addition to his role with the RRCSC, Shuler was appointed to the SC Rural Infrastructure Authority, whose goal is to provide state funding for rural infrastructure.
Also at last Thursday's meeting were representatives from the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resource Conservation District. FSA Acting State Director, W. Riley Odum, highlighted the USDA's “StrikeForce” Initiative, recently launched in South Carolina and designed to boost rural growth and opportunity. South Carolina is one of 16 states chosen for the initiative.
The evening culminated in presentations by Sara Clow, GrowFood Carolina General Manager, and Carol and Ben Williams, owners and operators of Millgrove Farms in Georgetown. GrowFood Carolina is a local food hub located in Charleston, working with farmers within a 120-mile radius to get their produce into previously difficult access markets such as local grocery stores and restaurants.
GrowFood Carolina's goal is to revitalize the local food system and farming community by providing essential aggregation, marketing, distribution, and logistical support to local growers. This support connects growers to local grocers, restaurants, community organizations and institutions, to make local and healthy food more accessible to the entire community.
In this capacity, Clow works directly with Millgrove Farms to connect them to an increasing number of markets.
Millgrove Farms is a working farm in the process of transitioning to organic production. Ben and Carol Williams described their positive experience working with GrowFood Carolina as a means to effectively match their production with market demand.
After planning their crops with Clow, the Williams routinely receive real time information from her on how much needs to be harvested for specific customers. Clow said such coordination is essential in order to maximize profitability and to reduce spoilage.
“Matching supply and demand is one of the most important functions of a local food hub," said Clow.” Right now, there is more than enough demand, but we need to focus on building the supply.”
Audience members were enthusiastic about the information presented at the meeting. In a post-meeting survey, 83 percent of the participants said that they would consider trying one of the presented marketing channels.
— S.C. Coastal Conservation League
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