Lowcountry Local First’s innovative programs are growing South Carolina’s economy, expanding access to locally grown agricultural products and encouraging development of the next generation of farmers.
The organization’s initiatives are so popular that its Buy Local week has been expanded to a full month every fall. The response to its apprentice and incubator programs for new farmers has been just as dramatic. More than 70 apprentices have gone through the Growing New Farmers Program, and six farmers are jump-starting their careers at the Dirt Works incubator farm at Charleston, says Jamee Haley, Lowcountry Local First executive director.
“We are creating jobs, building a workforce and providing the infrastructure that helps us sustain our agricultural economy,” she says.
The benefits include a stronger economy, access to farm-fresh produce and a healthier environment, Haley says.
“We know that 80 cents of every dollar spent with a family farm comes back to our local economy. Supporting these farmers creates jobs, decreases our impact on the environment, increases our local food supply and addresses our aging farmer population,” she says.
The apprenticeship program enabled Bo Collins to hone the agricultural skills he began to develop while helping farmers in Thailand harvest rice. His next step was to join the incubator program, which is helping him launch his business, Sol Haven Farm.
“They’re planting the seeds for new farming businesses,” Collins says.
The incubator program provides start-up assistance for new farmers, including access to farmland; mutually shared equipment including a tractor, a packing shed and a walk-in cooler that otherwise would be prohibitively expensive; marketing assistance and advice from an experienced mentor.
Lowcountry Local First launched the incubator program in partnership with Clemson University.
Collins is growing seasonal vegetables, herbs and cut flowers and is looking forward to a career working on the land. His customers are happy, too.
“We have people who’ve become full-time customers," Collins says. "There’s a lot of support around local food. It’s something everyone can come on board with."