Farming and Agricultural Recommendations for Mount Pleasant (F.A.R.M.)

Final Report for CS10-082

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2010: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Stacy Piehl
Town of Mount Pleasant
Co-Investigators:
Michael Robertson
Town of Mount Pleasant
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Project Information

Abstract:

The Town of Mount Pleasant, SC, in partnership with Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) developed a local food assessment based on qualitative and quantitative data for the Town and region related to agricultural production and current consumption figures, and identified changes to the zoning code to encourage local sustainable agriculture and the growth of a local food economy. Based on input from the landowners, stakeholders, and statistical data, a summary report was produced with recommendations for strategic actions and next steps for developing and expanding the local food economy.

Introduction

The Town of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina’s fourth largest municipality, seeks to re-introduce farming through sustainable agricultural practices as a tool for economic development and to create a more sustainable community. Agriculture and seafood production were once the dominant land use and cornerstone of the Town’s economy. Rapid growth from 6,875 residents to over 65,000 in the past three decades transformed the Town into a typical suburban community where agricultural land uses are replaced with residential and commercial development.

The Town recently completed a periodic update of its Comprehensive Plan. Through the Comprehensive Planning process, residents indicated a strong preference for local farm and food planning, as well as rural preservation. Mount Pleasant has several unique agricultural industries. Shem Creek, home to the Lowcountry shrimping fleet and seafood industry, is widely recognized as the heart of Mount Pleasant. The shrimpers associations and seafood industry will be key stakeholders and beneficiaries of a sustainable agricultural program. Additionally, Mount Pleasant is home to the Sweetgrass Basketmakers Association. Basketmaking in Mount Pleasant has a 300-year history deeply tied to West African slaves and plantation life. Today, the Sweetgrass basket is one of the most widely recognized symbols of the Lowcountry. It was designated the state handicraft and recently received national recognition through the creation of the Gullah Geechee National Cultural Heritage Corridor.

Sustainable agriculture will result in increased economic opportunity. In addition to increasing and promoting farmers, shrimpers, suppliers, foodstuffs producers, and other value-added related businesses, the Town seeks to develop methods to extend economic opportunity even further. The local plan includes recommendations to develop programs for community resiliency, food access, and food security.

The Town in partnership with Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) identified and met with stakeholders to develop a local food economy plan, develop a local food assessment based on qualitative and quantitative data for the region related to agricultural production and current consumption figures, and recommended changes to the zoning code to encourage local sustainable agriculture and the growth of a local food economy. Based on input from the stakeholders and statistical data, a summary report was produced with recommendations for strategic actions and next steps for developing and expanding the local food economy. The report provides a baseline of information about the food and farming economy of the area, statistical projections related to the financial impact of shifts in farm production and consumption, and partnership and collaboration recommendations for future projects in support of local food and farms.

Project Objectives:

1. Develop a local food assessment based on qualitative and quantitative data for the region related to agricultural production and current consumption figures;
2. Recommend changes to the zoning code to encourage local sustainable agriculture and the growth of a local food economy;
3. Produce a summary report with recommendations for strategic actions and next steps for developing and expanding the local food economy;
4. Present findings to Town Council for implementation.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Charlie Jackson

Research

Materials and methods:

1. Develop a local food assessment based on qualitative and quantitative data for the region related to
agricultural production and current consumption figures;
2. Recommend changes to the zoning code to encourage local sustainable agriculture and the growth of a local
food economy;
3. Produce a summary report with recommendations for strategic actions and next steps for developing and
expanding the local food economy;
4. Present findings to Town Council for implementation.

Research results and discussion:

TOWN OF MOUNT PLEASANT AND CHARLESTON COUNTY DEMOGRAPHICS (2009)

? Population:
Town of Mount Pleasant: 67,843
Charleston County: 350,209

? Per Capita Income:
Town of Mount Pleasant: $39,201.4
Charleston County: $28,963.5

? Education Level:
Town of Mount Pleasant: 96.9% of people 25 and over had graduated from
high school and 61.8% had a bachelor’s degree or higher
Charleston County: 87.5% of people 25 years and over had graduated from high school and 36.7% had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

? Living Below Poverty
Town of Mount Pleasant: 3.8%
Charleston County: 16.4%

AGRICULTURE IN CHARLESTON COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA (2007)

The majority of agricultural land in the Town of Mount Pleasant planning area is located outside the Town limits in the county. This report therefore concentrates on the whole of Charleston County for production and consumption related data.

? Charleston County had 332 farms and nearly 42,000 acres of farmland
? Average farm size in Charleston County is 126 acres.
? Value of agricultural products sold from farms in Charleston County was $24,041,000.

?
CURRENT PRODUCTION (2007)

? Total land area in Charleston County is 587,840 acres
7% farmland (41,702 acres)
49% of farmland classified as woodland
27% as cropland
9% as pasture
15% other uses

A breakdown of farms by category of farm products and the value of agricultural products sold for 2007 can be found in Table 1 of the report.

? 69% of agricultural sales in 2007 were vegetables and nursery/greenhouse/floriculture products.
? Charleston County is the number one aquaculture producer in the state
? Charleston County ranks second for horses, ponies, mules, burros, and donkeys
? Charleston County ranks fourth for vegetable production
? SC ranked second in nation in overall soft shell crab sales,
? SC ranked fourth in salt water shrimp sales
? SC ranked sixth in Tilapia sales for that year.

SALES INCREASE

? For each category of agricultural products, sales increased from 2002 to 2007.
? Sales in livestock, poultry, and their products more than tripled (212% increase)
? crop sales increased 9.7%.

TRENDS IN FARMING AND FARMLAND

? Charleston County number of farms decreased from 417 in 2002 to 332 in 2007,(-20%)
? Farmland decreased 12%. The biggest losses occurred in farms that are less than 10 acres.
? Only increase for Charleston County, the average size of farms rose from 114 acres to 126 (+10.5%).

AGING OF THE FARM POPULATION

? Average age of farmers (nationally) has increased every year since 1978.
? The average age of all U.S. farm operators has been greater than 50 years of age since 1974 census.
? Between 2002 and 2007 the national average increased from 55.3 yrs to 57.1 years of age
? In Charleston County, average age of farmers in 2007 was 58.9 years
? South Carolina average of farmers is 58.5

?
OPPORTUNITIES IN LOCAL MARKETS

Despite national trends toward consolidation, other national trends demonstrate opportunities for small producers in local markets. Local markets present smaller producers in particular with increased market options, and they offer markets that are less vulnerable to global price fluctuations.

Market research from the National Restaurant Association, the National Grocers association, and research firms like the Hartman Group have identified “local” as one of the food attributes most highly valued by consumers nationwide and as a major trend affecting the food industry. The USDA has predicted that the market for locally grown food will reach $7 billion in 2012. ASAP’s 2007 study on the food and farming economy of the 23 counties of Western North Carolina quantified demand for locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables in the region at that time to be $36 million per year and $452 million for all locally grown foods. Buying locally grown food is important because it supports local farms and the local economy, and for the majority of respondents, the availability of locally grown food is an important consideration when choosing a grocery store or a restaurant. Furthermore, the research demonstrates the importance of labeling local food and place-based messaging that ties local food to local community.

CONSUMER FOOD SPENDING AND CONSUMPTION FIGURES FOR CHARLESTON COUNTY

? Residents of Charleston County spent over $844 million on food in 2009.
? The average household spent $3,488 on groceries and
? The average household spent $2,539 on food consumed in other places.

? For Charleston County, 350,209 residents equals 140,084 households this figure breaks down into:
? $488,612,992 spent on food consumed at home and
? $355,673,276 spent on food consumed away from home.
? A little less than three quarters of all away-from-home food spending typically occurs in restaurants

? There is significantly more demand (consumption) than supply (production) for every type of fresh fruit and vegetable grown in the region except for blueberries and tomatoes.
? Achieving a level of supply equal to the level of consumption in this region (i.e., matching Column 3 with Column 2) is not realistic because it assumes year-round production of fresh fruits and vegetables. Rather, there is some point between Columns 3 and 2 that represents a practical target for local production in a fully mature local food system.

?As with fruits and vegetables, consumption outpaces production for all types of meats.
? Ranked number one in the state for commercial fishing and aquaculture production, Charleston
County fishermen regularly provide residents and businesses with fresh local seafood.
?Commercial fishing and aquaculture separates Charleston County from more interior South Carolina
counties.
? Marketing strategies focused on this area’s natural resource – for example, a local seafood label or an annual festival around local seafood–would provide a way for the region to distinguish its foodscape to residents and visitors and would provide farmers increased market opportunities.

? Milk production for Charleston County is estimated at 56,300 pounds. Some portion of that amount is marketed as fluid milk and some is used to make ice cream and other processed dairy products.

LOCAL PRODUCTION

? There is an upper limit to the amount of produce retail food stores can source from regional growers based on climate and soil related limitations.
? Charleston County farmers could not supply 100% of produce to local retailers, because they cannot grow avocados or bananas for example, no matter how much local food infrastructure is improved
? They can, however, grow each of the 39 different types of fruits and vegetables that accounted for 70% of produce sales in retail outlets nationwide in 2010.
? Based on the South Carolina regional produce availability calendar, 33 local farmers could grow 70% of the area’s most popular retail produce items for 43 percent of the year, and therefore supply 30% of
the total yearly produce purchases of residents (70% x 43% = 30%).

? The potential local retail spending figure $32.7 million represents the economic impact to the region if local farms were to supply all of the artisinal meat and fresh produce needs of Charleston County during growing seasons.
? fruits and vegetable maximum retail spending: $29,779,600
? meat (beef, chicken, pork) maximum retail spending: $2,909,414

? To achieve maximum access to the 39 fruits and vegetables, creative innovations will need the be instituted like extending crop seasons, developing storage techniques, utilizing alternative indoor growing methods, and developing a system for turning local fresh produce into processed product (e.g. apples into applesauce or tomatoes into salsa). The latter represents one of the best areas for Mount Pleasant businesses to capitalize in the agri-business field.

? The $32.7 million figure should be regarded as a long-term goal linked to substantial changes in local food production and distribution systems plus increased spending linked to increased interest in local food.

PART II: KEY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE TOWN OF MOUNT PLEASANT
TOURISM AND AGRICULTURE

VISITORS SPEND AN ESTIMATED $200 MILLION ANNUALLY ON FOOD AND BEVERAGE, SIGNIFYING A TREMENDOUS OPPORTUNITY FOR EFFORTS GEARED AROUND PROMOTING AND FURTHER DEVELOPING THE REGION’S LOCAL FOOD AND FARM ECONOMY.

CAPTURING 5% OF SALES IN RESTAURANTS WOULD ADD $10 MILLION DOLLARS TO THE LOCAL ECONOMY.

There are opportunities for the tourism industry to benefit from promoting food and farm tourism in the region. Sweetgrass and sweetgrass baskets are presently an area of focus due to community activism and local governmental support; these same types of efforts can also be directed to local food and farm products. There may be a need for expanded or different market promotion among tourists, encouraging them to visit area tailgate markets and farms. Increasing the variety and quantity of processed farm products for direct sale is another way to include tourists in the Local Food Campaign.

Mount Pleasant in particular has an opportunity with its shrimp and seafood industry. As the United States imports more and more of its seafood, tourists have begun to seek out coastal vacation destinations so that they can have authentic seafood experiences. The Recreation, Travel and Tourism Institute at Clemson University and Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation’s South Carolina: “Sea” the Difference is a good model of a promotional campaign aimed at uniting the seafood industry with tourism.

PART II: KEY RECOMMENDATIONS IDENTIFIED FOR THE TOWN OF MOUNT PLEASANT FOR ADDITIONAL ACTION AND STUDY

LOCAL FOOD GUIDES
LOCAL BRANDING AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAMS
EXPERIENCES AROUND LOCAL FOODS
FARM TO CHEF PROGRAMS
FARMERS MARKET TECHNOLOGY
LOCAL FOOD PURCHASING POLICY
CURRENT REGULATIONS
COMPREHENSIVE FARMLAND PLAN
AGRICULTURAL ZONING DISTRICT
URBAN GARDEN DISTRICT ZONING
PURCHASE OF AGRICULTURAL CONSERVATION EASEMENTS
TRANSFER DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS
TAXES
FOOD POLICY COUNCIL
FOSTER COLLABORATION AROUND SHARED GOALS

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

The Local Food and Farm Assessment: Mount Pleasant, South Carolina was produced through the grant and is available from the Town of Mount Pleasant Planning and Development Department and also through our website at www.tompsc.com (http://www.tompsc.com/DocumentView.aspx?DID=1122).

The report was provided to every farmer in Charleston County.
Further, the report was provided to the more than sixty (60) members of the Charleston County Agricultural Issues Committee. A presentation of the report and its findings was made to the committee at their January 2012 meeting.

A copy of the report was provided to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.

A copy of the report was provided to the Clemson University Agricultural Extension Service.

A copy of the report was provided to the United States Department of Agriculture Charleston Experiment Station.

The report was presented to the citizens of Mount Pleasant in a public meeting in October 2011 and to Town Council in December 2011.

Town staff continue to seek ways to implement the findings of the report, present its findings, and are available for outreach efforts through local, regional, state, and national conferences and publications.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The Town of Mount Pleasant and Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project presented the final report to the public in October 2011 and the report was presented to Town Council in December 2011. Since its adoption by Town Council, the report has been presented to the Charleston County Agricultural Issues Committee and has also been received by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. Of the fifteen key recommendations of the report, actions are currently being undertaken addressing and implementing twelve of the recommendations.

As a result of the report, the Town of Mount Pleasant has revised its agricultural uses and district zoning requirements. The use districts have been expanded and more clearly defined as “uses of right”. Further, these uses were devised to limit the impact of additional uses on the value of farmland. These limitations were implemented on the input of farmers and landowners. The result is that some commercial or residential uses which previously may have been allowed in agricultural zoning districts are limited so as not to be construed by assessors as a higher use therefore increasing taxes on the farmland. Additionally, the zoning code recognizes the unique needs of agricultural enterprises and removes some requirements that were viewed as impediments by farmers such as review and approval of farm structures by the Commercial Design Review Board thus allowing for more utilitarian and less expensive farm structures and reducing development costs by farmers.

Urban and community gardening were added to the zoning code and recognized as an allowed use in all zoning districts.

In addition to changes to the use districts, the Town is developing a Cultural Landscape zoning district. The district seeks to preserve and promote farmlands, historic sites, rural vistas, and the cultural heritage associated with the Town such as Sweetgrass basketmaking, traditional crafts and local foodways.

The Town continues to identify economic opportunities through value-added projects and is expanding these opportunities by allowing direct to consumer sales of agricultural produce at farmstands and on-dock/on-boat sales of fresh seafood.

The Town has developed a pilot program for food trucks.

The report was presented and enthusiastically received by the Charleston County Agricultural Issues Committee in January 2012. Members of the committee include farmers; value-added foodstuffs producers; local, county, and state government officials; and local and regional NGOs. The report is being used to foster collaboration around shared goals and to identify next steps to implement a stronger local food economy plan. It has also been used to identify and increase knowledge of collaborative efforts already under way in the region. Members of the committee, which include the Town of Mount Pleasant, have already begun to collaborate on efforts to develop a local foods distribution system, local foods guide, local branding and certification programs, and local farm to chef programs.

The presentation of the report to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture through the Charleston County Agricultural Issues Committee was instrumental in helping the Town identify grant opportunities to secure electronic SNAP/WIC card readers for use in the Town Farmers’ Market. The installation of an electronic SNAP/WIC card reader will increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables and increase food security for our entire population.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The Town of Mount Pleasant continues to seek ways to implement the recommendations of the report and create a strong local food and farming economy. Of the fifteen key recommendations of the report, actions are currently being undertaken addressing and implementing ten of the recommendations. The Town continues to study those recommendations for possible implementation at a later date. Transfer of Development Rights was one recommendation of the report; however, the low densities throughout the Town make this an ineffective strategy for landowners, farmers, and developers at this time. As our population continues to grow, this may be a more effective incentive.

Likewise, the purchase of agricultural conservation easements has not been explored as a first-response tool by the Town. The Town created the Mount Pleasant Open Spaces Foundation in 2003 as an urban land trust. The Town presented the report findings to the Mount Pleasant Open Spaces Foundation and met with the executive director to discuss the findings and issues facing agricultural lands. The Town will continue to coordinate efforts to preserve and promote land protection with the foundation.

Through the report, the Town became aware of the South Carolina Food Policy Council. The Town will continue to learn about the work and role of the Food Policy Council and coordinate efforts of the Town with the Council through the Charleston County Agricultural Issues Committee and directly when warranted.

The Town will continue to review opportunities to promote more local food and local products through our three annual festivals–Sweetgrass Cultural Festival, Blessing of the Fleet, and Big Shrimp’n FFestival. In addition to featuring local culture and restaurants, more opportunities may be available to increase awareness, access, and enjoyment of local products to a larger community.

The report has been instrumental in creating awareness of the uses and needs of farmers and farmland and the opportunities to create a more vibrant and diversified economy and ultimately, a more sustainable community. The response from farmers, fisherman, shrimpers, businessman, and the community as a whole has been extremely positive. Each continue to seek new opportunities as we re-discover the opportunities and value agriculture adds to our community.

Future Recommendations

The Town will continue to implement the recommendations of the report and seek efforts to collaborate with other lcoal and county officials and NGOs. Further, the Town will study the impact of the recommendations implemented thus far on the local farms, land use, and economic policies. The report may provide the foundation for additional grants such as the Research and Education Grant through SARE in addition to other sources.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.