Lowcountry Local First was delighted to catch up with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, a supporting partner of Eat Drink Local Month. Commissioner Hugh Weathers answered some burning questions we had about the agriculture industry, how the department works with our state’s farmers and consumers, and more!

What successes/strengths are you currently seeing in the state’s agriculture industry?

The pandemic was as tough on farmers as it was on everyone else, but there were some bright spots. The disruptions to our food systems made people more aware of the importance of farmers. Now more than ever, consumers want to know where their food comes from – and they’re looking to local farmers to provide it. This has created some wonderful opportunities for consumer outreach and education. 

We’re also seeing some exciting innovation among South Carolina farmers and agribusiness entrepreneurs, whether it’s Heron Farms’ sea beans, or companies like Vertical Roots that use Controlled Environment Agriculture to improve farm labor conditions and grow crops efficiently. The South Carolina Department of Agriculture is dedicated to supporting these advances through programs like our Agribusiness Center for Research and Entrepreneurship. 

What are the biggest pain points facing SC’s farmers today?

Input costs are sky-high right now. Input costs are expenses like fertilizer, fuel and labor – and when they’re high, it makes it more expensive to farm and more difficult to turn a profit. Inflation also means consumers’ food dollar doesn’t go as far, which is tough on the farmers who grow our food.  

Why is it important for our citizens to consume locally grown foods and beverages whenever possible?

We have 24,600 farms in South Carolina, and it’s vitally important that we support the people behind them. Eating local is a great way to offset some of those problems farmers are facing – and to enjoy fresher, healthier food. When consumers choose locally-grown food, more of each dollar they spend on food goes to farmers in their own community rather than to retail, transportation, marketing and all the other costs that are part of our food distribution system. 

Local food also travels less distance, so it’s often fresher, not to mention better for the environment. And choosing local helps support South Carolina’s foodways, our heirloom crops and our unique history and culture. In South Carolina, we grow delicious food year-round, so there are always opportunities to choose local. 

What do you wish SC citizens knew about the Certified SC Grown program?

Through our Certified South Carolina program, we work with about 1,700 farms and food producers, and hundreds of partners like grocery stores to help consumers identify and choose local food. Not just anybody can use the Certified SC label – they must reapply to our program each year and demonstrate their commitment to quality. 

How does Certified SC Grown fit into the broader goals of SCDA?

We created the Certified South Carolina program in 2007 to grow awareness of South Carolina-grown food and create more opportunities and income for South Carolina farmers – and we know it’s working. According to a 2020 study by UofSC research economist Joseph C. Von Nessen, South Carolinians purchased $176.3 million more from South Carolina farmers in 2018 than they did in 2010 across all Certified South Carolina food categories. That accounts for an additional $274 million in economic activity, 1,615 jobs and $51 million in labor income for South Carolinians each year. These results show Certified South Carolina delivers a strong return on investment for South Carolina taxpayers.

 

 

Erika Grimes