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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Certified South Carolina Grown (not me personally)

Nico, Randall and I attended a fantastic meeting this morning held at the USDA Vegetable Laboratory out on Highway 17. Lowcountry Local First and the South Carolina Department of Agriculture have teamed up to ensure the production of local food through the SCDA's programs: Certifed South Carolina Grown and their farm/restaurant initiative "Fresh on the Menu." What we saw today was an array of local farmers, producers, wholesalers, chefs and restaurant owners wholeheartedly committed to locally grown food and products.

For me, it was really fascinating to learn how eager everyone was to share ideas and hear what was most important to each group: be they chef, farmer or wholesaler. And, we got to meet some fantastic folks and see some friends. Rita Bachmann, an organic farmer on Wadamalaw Island; Michael & Becky Worrell of Mibek Farms in Barnwell; Keegan-Filion Farm & Annie's Organic Market in Walterboro; Kennerty Farms on Wadamalaw Island and Bill Livingston of Livington's Bull Bay Seafood in McClellanville are just a few of the great farmers we met. Also said hi to some of the local chefs in attendance, like FIG's Mike Lata and Charleston Grill's Bob Waggoner.

The SCDA had some compelling statistics about the public's preference for local food. In a 2007 statewide consumer survey, 92% of the respondents said they would choose fruits and vegetables grown in South Carolina over those grown out-of-state. I just love that.

One of the most interesting parts of the meeting was the realization of how truly connected agriculture is to everything else. For instance, shortening the distance food travels to get to the consumer is great and is part of what locally grown food is all about. But as fuel prices continue to rise, even shortened trips become a financial burden for some producers. And, what about the effects of a recession on agriculture and the food and beverage industry? At one point, I leaned over to our Managing Partner and said, "You know, the presidential candidates should really be here." Seriously.

One other cool thing. Check out this South Carolina produce availability guide. It tells you what grows when. Isn't it crazy to think how far removed from the earth we've become? Anyway, here's a way to dig right back in. Buy local. Eat local.

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