South Carolina Food on South Carolina Tables: Keeping It Local

“Farm to table” is far more than a trendy term in upscale restaurants. It is a movement that puts locally produced food in a starring role, which makes good economic and environmental sense. Food that doesn’t travel across the country to get to your plate is fresher; it doesn’t come with a carbon footprint attached to it; and it keeps money in the local economy, supporting community farms.

There are lots of restaurants in the Upstate that use locally sourced food to make delicious dishes—Bacon Brothers Public House in Greenville, SummaJoe’s in Anderson, Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery in Travelers Rest, Grits & Groceries in Belton—the last two of which, as can be seen by their names, also have stores selling local items—and others.

There are farms that do farm-to-table catering: Friends Farm and Catering in Townville and Greenbrier Farms in Easley, and farms like Belue Farms and Happy Cow Creamery have stores that sell their own products as well as many from other local farms. Mill Village Farms in Greenville combines growing food with ministry—in particular, giving jobs to community youth. And of course there are plenty of local farmers markets where farmers sell their goods directly to consumers.

A state agritourism program brings people to farms for educational, recreational, and, of course, nutritional purposes. Participating farms offer a wide variety of experiences, from pick-your-own produce options to school-based activities for kids and educational seminars and demonstrations for adults to purely fun activities like corn mazes, and they all allow guests to meet the farmers, see a farm in action, and be connected to the source of locally grown food.

All of these things are good and necessary to support local farmers, making them economically viable and sustainable. But the real economy of scale comes from institutional buy-in to the farm to table movement, and the department of agriculture has a Farm to Institution program to do just that.  The program’s mission, according to the web site, is “to connect farmers with schools (k-12), preschools, hospitals, colleges and other institutions to strengthen our food system by increasing the amount of South Carolina grown and processed foods served in our state, while providing opportunities for health and agriculture education.”

Another effort to get the food from local farms to more local tables—whether those tables belong to institutions, restaurants, or homes—is Feed & Seed, an initiative led by Mike McGirr, who calls himself a food advocate. It’s hard not to come away from a conversation with McGirr feeling like a food revolution is under way here in the Upstate and catching his enthusiasm for the potential.

In December of last year, a feasibility study (PDF) was completed to demonstrate the need for a food hub in the Upstate, and McGirr has been meeting with farmers, state officials, and researchers at Clemson and Furman Universities to find ways not only to keep food here but to match supply to demand.

For example, Clemson geneticist and Feed & Seed board member Dr. Stephen Kresovich is working with farmers in Laurens and Union Counties to plant wheat varieties that are wanted by local flour mills, service bakeries, breweries, and the animal feed market. This kind of specialized planting will bring higher prices than commodities prices and will revitalize thousands of acres of underutilized farm land. Laurens County is planting this fall for a winter wheat crop, and Union hopes to plant in the spring.

The Feed & Seed food hub, when it opens (the location is due to be announced in the next week or two), will be a multipurpose venue in downtown Greenville. Its primary purpose will be buying and reselling farm products in the local wholesale market, but it will also have a retail outlet for general consumers. The vision for the food hub also involves education, research, and innovation, supporting farmers in all ten counties of the Upstate and getting various disciplines at colleges and universities involved in the local food chain, including marketing, nutrition science, veterinary studies, culinary programs, genetics, and others.

With McGirr at Feed & Seed, state agencies, local farmers, and the university system working together, the wheels are in motion to make sure that more of what ends up on all of our tables comes from farms right here in the Upstate.

 

Photo credits: Banner—Mill Village Farm/Serenity Farm; Upper right, bottom right—Garroll Purvis; Middle left—Feed & Seed

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.  

10/15