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Hot Topic: Future of the Midlands Local Food System

On August 4, 2014, over 100 food stakeholders gathered at the State Farmers Market’s Philips Market Center to envision the future of the region’s local food system. After learning more about regional food system developments across the state, Food Systems Design Consultant and former director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Tony Kleese presented the elements comprising an ideal sustainable food system. He then led the group through a visioning exercise. “What does your food system look like now?” he asked the audience, and “What do you want the Midlands local food system to look like in the future?”

The goal of the exercise was to prioritize the work of the Midlands Local Food Collaborative in order to create the food community participants envisioned.

The top issues the group voted to address are:

  1. Farm to School/Farm to Institution Implementation
  2. Land Access for New Farmers
  3. Agriculture Education
  4. Farm Labor

Let’s look at these issues a little more closely.

1. Farm to School/Farm to Institution Implementation

1) Most of us can agree that increased access to fresh, healthy food in our schools and institutions would create a healthier food community, as well as market opportunity for local producers. The Farm-to- School program is a national USDA initiative supporting this effort through research, training, technical assistance, and grants.

Core components of the South Carolina Farm to School Program include increasing the number of farmers that are certified to provide locally grown products into schools; providing education to food-service staff and teachers on Farm to School practices; and providing hands-on learning activities to promote healthy eating among school children.

The South Carolina Farm to School Program supports schools in implementing the four components of Farm to School. Participating schools are require to: 1) source at least two SC grown fruits and vegetables per month to be served as a part of the school meal; 2) promote SC grown in the school cafeteria; 3) integrate nutrition and agriculture education into classroom activities; and 4) establish a school vegetable garden.

At the meeting, participants felt that if the Farm-to-School program were required to be in every school, the challenges and barriers facing farmer participation statewide could be formally addressed by governing bodies, ensuing solutions to the barriers.

The Midlands Local Food Collaborative can provide the tools necessary to help local producers meet institutional food safety requirements, like getting GAPs certified. However, institutional policies may need to be modified in order to expand the market for local food in institutions.

More Information: http://www.usda.gov/documents/6-Farmtoinstitution.pdf

2. Land Access

The Midlands boasts an abundance of undeveloped land with prime soils for agricultural production. However, development and non-agricultural uses are reducing the amount of arable land. Furthermore, farmers in the “baby boomer” generation are aging out, and the land they used for farming may further reduce production potential in the Midlands.

At the meeting, the audience voted to focus on the issue of Land Access. The Midlands Local Food Collaborative can learn from models such as Lowcountry Local First’s land-linking work, as well as national organizations like National Young Farmers Coalition. If there were more reasonable land leases, innovative finance strategies, and programs linking landowners with farmers, increased access to land would help increase agricultural production.

http://www.uvm.edu/newfarmer/?Page=land/index.html&SM=land/sub-menu.html

4. Agriculture Education

Future of Midlands Farm and Food Summit participants emphasized the need for more agriculture education at all levels.  Youth programs such as 4-H, Future Farmers of America, Ag in the Classroom, Farm to School, Green Steps Schools, and more need greater support and penetration in SC schools.  Training programs for new and beginning farmers, including the SC New and Beginning Farmer Program, farm incubators, and mentorship and apprenticeship programs should be implemented statewide.  Continuing education opportunities should be available to all farmers. 

5. Farm Labor

Farm labor concerns include the increase in the average age of farmers, the cost of labor, poor labor quality, and unclear, ignored, or problematic immigration and labor policies. Opportunities exist to build collaborations between farmers, provide entrepreneurial and business skills training, and to facilitate the exchange of low-cost labor for education and training opportunities. 

For more information:  

http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-labor.aspx#.VEWnulZaSbA

http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/MannUsda/viewDocumentInfo.do?documentID=1063

Hot Topic:  Making Small Farms Big Business

A recent report issued by the SC Departments of Agriculture and Commerce highlights opportunities for expanding local food production and increasing the economic impact of small farms and specialty crops in South Carolina. The Midlands Local Food Collaborative is working to facilitate the implementation of the MSFBB recommendations throughout the midlands. 

South Carolinians buy $11 billion of food each year, but less than 10% of that food is produced in-state. A report released by the SC Departments of Agriculture and Commerce in December, called Making Small Farms into Big Business (MSFBB), recommends improvements to SC’s farm and food infrastructure which could increase the amount of food produced and purchased in-state. These improvements could increase the revenue of small SC farmers by $1.2 billion annually.

Among the recommendations are proposals for the development of 15 to 20 “nodes” of production, where farmers share production infrastructure such as sorting, packing, and storage facilities and equipment; refrigerated trucks and delivery vehicles; hoophouses and greenhouses; and even irrigation wells and drip irrigation systems.

The study also recommends the establishment of three food hubs—businesses that manage aggregation, distribution, and marketing of local products to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand. Currently, GrowFood Carolina, located in Charleston, is SC’s only food hub.

The Midlands Local Food Collaborative is working to facilitate the implementation of the MSFBB recommendations throughout the midlands.A network of food nodes and hubs will strengthen SC’s food system and increase small farm revenue by $1.2 billion annually.  (Map by Adam Cox)

The complete MSFBB report is available here.
For more information about MSFBB and its implementation, contact Jack Shuler at (803) 926-3462 or jack@novingerqtr.com.