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Creating prosperity with our appetites

Posted: November 26, 2011 3:27 p.m.
Updated: November 28, 2011 5:00 a.m.

The holiday season is upon us, and while we may see, hear and read admonitions and tips for healthy holiday eating, I’d like for us to think about healthy eating in terms of a healthy South Carolina economy. According to Dana Beach with the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, “…less than 10 percent of what we eat in South Carolina is grown in the state. The rest is imported.” For the holidays and everyday, we should be serving up foods that create jobs for South Carolinians, and not send our food dollars out of state or even out of the country.

In my last few columns, I’ve focused on the state’s need to create jobs by encouraging entrepreneurship and creating a jobs-ready workforce by providing a quality K-12 education system and accessible and affordable technical college or four-year degrees. We must have a workforce that is trained with the skills that modern industry demands. We should also, however, make respectful and sustainable use of the God-given natural resources of our state.

Fertile soil, a long growing season and abundant farmland have made possible a significant agricultural presence in our state, but its full potential is yet to be realized. Agribusiness has a $34 billion economic impact in South Carolina and supports nearly 200,000 jobs. We have thriving agricultural segments in such commodities as forestry products, tobacco, poultry, cotton and floriculture, among others. What about a year-round variety of South Carolina foods for our tables?

Currently, large-scale producers, processors and distributors dominate the food system. Even with the growing demand for local foods, the challenge for local producers has been getting the food into the marketplace. To address this problem, South Carolina now has its first local food hub.

Open since August of this year, GrowFood Carolina, a project of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, is a wholesale distribution center located in Charleston that is dedicated to the marketing and distribution of locally-produced food products. It has warehouse space, including a refrigerated cooler and space for food processing. The management of GrowFood Carolina will help local farmers by aligning supply and demand, aggregating product and arranging distribution and logistics. GrowFood Carolina will also offer an umbrella liability policy and help farmers with regulatory compliance.

This local food hub should be a tremendous help in getting local foods into places that have been difficult to access before: restaurants, schools, retail stores and hospitals. Change will not come overnight, but having a distributor provide predictability of product and product availability for the buyer is a big step for local foods in South Carolina. Another piece of this puzzle is preparing consumers and food service workers for local, fresher foods.

South Carolina’s Farm to School program is working extensively to build relationships between schools and local producers through grants to schools. This effort is creating opportunities for students to be exposed to South Carolina Grown produce, learn about nutrition and agriculture and partake in hands-on learning activities related to healthy eating and farming.

There are four components of a grant: sourcing South Carolina grown produce for the school lunch program, promoting the South Carolina Grown program in the school Cafeteria, integrating nutrition and agriculture education into the classroom curriculum, and establishing a school vegetable garden.

Doby’s Mill Elementary was one of 52 grant recipients around the state. In addition to the many completed and on-going activities at the school, some Doby’s Mill teachers and students joined Chef Scott Freiberg at the Eat Smart Move More tent at the Kershaw County Farmers Market to prepare peach parfaits and vegetable frittatas made from locally-grown items found at the market.

While thinking about your holiday preparations, your family can participate in the growing success of South Carolina local foods. The S.C. Department of Agriculture and has partnered with the Lee Brothers, who grew up in Charleston and are now celebrity chefs and best-selling cookbook authors. Enter the “Lee Brother Your Holiday” contest by submitting your favorite original holiday recipe, which must contain at least one Certified South Carolina Grown item. Recipes can be entered by email at email@LeeBrotherYourHoliday.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LeeBrotherYourHoliday. Submissions will be accepted through November 30.

The Lee Brothers will select the top five finalists from each of the following categories: entrees, sides, appetizers, desserts, and baked goods. The five grand-prize winners, one from each category, and their guests will be invited to the State Farmers Market Exhibition Kitchen where the Lee Brothers will prepare and serve all of the grand-prize winning recipes.

If we buy local, food can be part of the solution to the high unemployment in our rural counties and a positive and sustaining part of our economy. By improving our local foods infrastructure with distribution and processing centers; preparing food buyers, food service workers, and customers for local, fresh foods; and celebrating our local harvest, we can do better supporting our South Carolina farmers and create more jobs for our citizens. That’s a recipe for improved economic health for our state. Seconds, anyone?

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