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South Carolina Digs into Farm-to-Table Movement

Sustainable farming, community-supported agriculture, urban farming initiatives and traditional agribusiness endeavors.

By John Fuller on July 11, 2014

South Carolina
South Carolina / Brian McCord

City Roots co-founder Eric McClam had suspected that South Carolinians have a healthy appetite for locally grown, sustainable agriculture products that reach their tables just hours after leaving the farm. The response from his customers proves just how hungry they are.

“We worried initially about getting word out and selling our products, but apparently the community was starving for this type of addition to the area. We sell everything we grow and are working now on expanding,” says McClam, who in 2009 began City Roots, Columbia’s first in-town sustainable farm, with co-founder Robbie McClam.

City Roots and agricultural enterprises such as Watsonia Farms, a fourth-generation family farm in Monette, are part of a thriving agriculture industry in South Carolina that is at the forefront of sustainable farming, community-supported agriculture, urban farming initiatives and traditional agribusiness endeavors.

Today, some 180 South Carolina farms have acreage dedicated to growing organic products. They are part of a broader agribusiness sector – which includes agriculture, forestry and related businesses – that has a $34 billion impact on the state’s economy each year and accounts for 200,000 jobs. The state is a major producer of cotton, freestone peaches, peanuts, pecans, cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon and tomatoes as well as broilers, turkeys, eggs and cattle.

South Carolina Farms: Economic Vitality

South Carolina Department of Agriculture study found that even during the recession, the agriculture side of agribusiness experienced a $1 billion increase and grew to $17.9 billion.

“Agriculture is a vital part of South Carolina’s economy. The agriculture industry’s growth during the devastating recession is something not many other industries experienced, and we are very proud of that success,” says Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers.

At Watsonia Farms, sustainability and organic growing methods have been in place for years.

“We are proud to say that we enjoy the reputation of being forerunners in the industry, using cutting-edge agricultural practices,” says Jeph Watson, one of the four generations of Watsons who have worked on the farm since 1918.

Throughout the state, urban farming and innovative practices have found fertile ground.

City Roots, for example, includes a 2.75-acre farm that grows 125 varieties of fruits and vegetables, keeps bees for locally produced honey and raises chickens for farm-fresh eggs. Even the farm’s barn is sustainable. Built using locally sourced materials and incorporating energy-efficient features, the barn meets LEED standards.

Watsonia Farms has a close relationship with Clemson University, which conducts research at the farm on leading-edge ag practices.

In Greenville, a network of more than 30 groups, ranging from individual homeowners to schools, churches and businesses, are part of an urban farming initiative.

Meanwhile, the Medical University of South Carolina has developed a half-acre educational garden to create opportunities for the surrounding community to learn how to eat for health and to gain a better understanding of the connection between land and food.

An App a Day

“The importance of a sustainable urban farming effort like ours is not limited to simply supplying incredibly delicious, healthy, locally grown organic food to our community. We’ve been humbled by the interest and help we’ve received from volunteers, interns and our elected officials,” Eric McClam says of City Roots.   

Another example of innovation is the Certified South Carolina program, which brands and promotes locally grown agricultural products sold in restaurants, grocery stores, farmers markets, and even some hospitals and school cafeterias. Now more than 1,200 farmers, processors, wholesalers and retailers use the brand.

Technology is helping South Carolinians connect with the land and with their food. When it comes to linking consumers with farm fresh products in a state where even barns meet LEED standard, it’s no surprise that there’s an app for that.

Fresh on the Menu, the restaurant version of Certified South Carolina, offers a free app that enables users to find restaurants featuring the state’s freshest foods. Users can learn about the chefs who prepare their favorite meals, try recipes and see a list of the farmers who produce the food they love.

Even when they are dining out, South Carolinians can make the farm-to-table connection.

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