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The economic potential of SC's harvest
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We thank Thee, Heavenly Father,

For all things bright and good;

The seedtime and the harvest,

Our life, our health, our food.

--Matthias Claudius (1740-1815)

The holiday season is also the food season. We gather with family and friends for feasts and festivities from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. But even in a modern world filled with hustle and bustle, we can still celebrate the local harvest with gratitude as the Pilgrims and Native Americans did that first Thanksgiving.

While we are not (all of us) growing our own corn and raising our own chickens, we can share in and enjoy the harvest of our neighbor farmers by supporting their efforts with our food dollar. The local food movement has grown in South Carolina to the extent that agriculture officials report we now have some 80 community-based farmers markets and 120 roadside markets. Kershaw County is the proud home of one of these community-based farmers markets.

There are many good reasons to support local agriculture: healthier, tastier, and fresher food options; energy savings through less reliance on fuel and refrigeration to truck food in from far-away; and greater social and economic activity, to name a few.

The potential of this economic activity based in local foods is a subject of great interest among agriculture officials, local food enthusiasts, and groups interested in ways to grow South Carolina’s economy.

Today, agribusiness in South Carolina creates, directly and indirectly, 188,000 jobs and has a $30 billion economic impact, making it the largest economic cluster in the state. In addition to food production, this figure includes timber, green industry (greenhouse, nursery, and floriculture), and commodity crops such as cotton, soybeans, and corn. Agriculture groups are aiming for a $50 billion impact in the near future, and expanding the local food market is one way of contributing to that goal.

In 2007, the SC Department of Agriculture introduced the SC Certified Grown campaign to enhance our local food system and market South Carolina products to South Carolinians. The program has experienced success, but there is significant growth potential in this effort if even more South Carolinians purchased more South Carolina food products.

According to a study published this year by the Division of Research at the USC Moore School of Business, continued investment in the Certified SC Grown program will increase the economic impact of the local source market by encouraging greater consumption of South Carolina-grown food. The study used as an attainable target our neighboring states of Georgia and North Carolina for their similar geographies and agricultural capabilities.

The study showed that if South Carolina were able to match the local source demand of our neighbors in North Carolina and Georgia, our state would gain an additional 10,053 jobs and an additional total economic impact of $558.1 million. These numbers include direct, indirect, and induced impact. (Induced is defined as the state-wide ripple effects of expenditures from wages and salaries.)

Agriculture in South Carolina cannot be dismissed as a thing of the past. Rather, it is obvious from the facts and figures that agriculture is a major economic force in our state and has the ability to expand. South Carolina has the farmland and the research institutions to continue to move agriculture into the 21st century. Consumers play an important role in this process. Simply by increasing our commitment to buying local food products, we can improve our economy and create new jobs.

The Kershaw County Farmers Market is open for two more Saturdays this season (December 4 and December 11). Include local foods – meats, eggs, and South Carolina milk and cheese – in your holiday meal and party plans. Vendors from Camden, Sumter, and Kingstree are bringing in cold weather crops like collards, cabbage, kale, and other greens. Local honey makes a nice addition to gift baskets as well as an essential ingredient in holiday baking and desserts. Beeswax candles made with the help of local bees are an elegant way to light a festive table.

So when you make the effort to shop local, remember our local farmers. Celebrate the local harvest. There’s no more delightful and delicious way to contribute to the economic strength of our state.