- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: focus group, networking
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, farm-to-institution, market study
- Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture, permaculture, transitioning to organic
- Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, leadership development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public policy, urban/rural integration, employment opportunities, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures
The South Carolina Coastal Conservation League (CCL), a 20-year old environmental advocacy organization, has a long history of supporting sustainable agriculture and rural communities along South Carolina's coast. One of CCL's earliest projects was the Penn School for Preservation which worked with leaders from the historically African-American and agricultural sea islands, giving them tools to protect their communities and environment from mounting development pressures. More recently, we have focused on the critical nature of agriculture as a key factor in our communities and economy, realizing the need for a transition from big agriculture to community farming and acknowledging this will require reassembling the social and economic infrastructure of rural South Carolina.
There are three basic areas where agricultural reform must occur: state policy, farmer education and recruitment, and physical infrastructure for product processing, marketing and distribution. We need laws and regulations that accommodate small farmers selling locally; educational resources to provide farmers to tap into new
metropolitan markets; and physical facilities and places for local processing and distribution. Properly done, this agenda has the potential to revitalize the state's rural economy, recapitalize farms, conserve the best of the state's valuable agricultural lands, and help mend inequities that have plagued the state for three hundred years.
CCL, in partnership with Lowcountry Local First, and in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, other conservation groups and various agencies, proposes to mount a five-year comprehensive campaign on
sustainable agriculture to revolutionize the way South Carolinia produces, distributes, consumes and thinks about food. One of the key elements of this work will be a central agricultural distribution facility, known as GrowFood Carolina. SARE funding is supporting the initial stages of GrowFood Carolina including focus group meetings,
marketing and branding, and education outreach.
Presently, there is well-developed private and public-sector infrastructure for large-scale agriculture. Produce distributors, packing sheds, warehouses, etc., serve large farmers adequately, particularly in the export arena. Of the total amount of produce consumed by South Carolinians, only ten percent is grown in the state. Small scale operators are relegated to road-side stands, undependable pickup trucks, unknown buyers and markets, and unpredictable and uncontrollable prices. Buyers, like restaurants, grocery stores and families, experience a corresponding disconnect. They are unable to purchase local produce in predictable quantity and quality.
All parties agree that the missing links are local distribution centers designed to serve small farmers, located in proximity to metropolitan markets. These centers could not only serve as points of collection and distribution, they could perform clearinghouse functions, matching buyers with sellers, establishing fair prices and providing marketing services. They could also provide space for product processing, allowing producers or others to add value to produce within the community.
GrowFood Carolina will be an important catalyst in strengthening and securing the future of a regional and sustainable food supply by providing small rural farmers with the business apparatus to support and advance their economic prosperity. The ultimate goal of GrowFood Carolina is to ensure the success of sustainable and local
agriculture in our region.
Project objectives from proposal:
1. Promote and Expand Sustainable Farming: To promote and expand sustainable farming in the region by creating lasting relationships within the farming and local food-consuming community. GrowFood Carolina will work to link small-scale local farmers to sustainable agriculture extension agents, local nonprofits, government officials
and Conservation League staff to assist with technical support, regulatory compliance, beneficial planning, education outreach and agricultural support. These relationships will be vital to the success of GrowFood, and will likewise expand as a result of the project.
2. Revitalize the Rural Economy: To make small sustainable farms economically feasible by ensuring a reliable, predictable, and readily accessible supply of and demand for local food year round. CCL will work with other organizations and farmers on harvest projections and outreach to farmers to ensure that local producers have local customers.
3. Promote Marketing of Local Products: To assist local sustainable farmers in product marketing--including branding, pricing, and product scheduling [planting plans], through education outreach. The project team will work in focus groups comprised of farmers, extension agents, chefs, local government, local nonprofits and
other stakeholders to determine the best approach. Additionally, there will be a Community Steering Committee with representatives of CCL, LLF, local restaurants, and local farms, who will ensure that the project is best serving the community's interest.
4. Educate the Public About the Benefits of Local, Sustainable Agriculture : To involve the community and local organizations in the creation of GrowFood Carolina through public outreach and media, thus educating the public and garnering public support. The project team will educate the public about the project's role and will work to
resolve any obstacles that may arise by ensuring that the farmers' interests are protected and enhanced. CCL's staff of 26 employees is able to assist in lobbying efforts, communication, land use planning, energy efficiency and water quality issues that may arise.
5. Increase Local Agricultural Research & Assessment: To collect local food economy data and distribute it to local organizations, farmers, stakeholders and national organizations. The project team is working with local software developer, Agrinovare. Data will be gathered and organized throughout the project's operation. CCL
staff will meet with public officials, co-ops, farmers, chefs and other officials to present and discuss data as it becomes available.
6. Create a Sustainable Model Facility: To establish a successful local food distribution center that will serve as a national model. With the broad range of partners this project includes, our hope is that this project will become a model for other states in how to stimulate small-scale rural economies through marketing, planning,
coordination and efficient distribution of local products to local consumers.