Pee Dee Food Hub seeking farmer partners
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Several Darlington County farmers gathered last Friday, November 20, at the Lydia Community Center to learn about an exciting opportunity to grow their small farms and get more involved in the “farm to table” food movement. Representatives of the Pee Dee Food Hub discussed plans to team with local farmers to offer a wide variety of fresh, locally grown produce to consumers, businesses, and institutions through a “Carolina Farm Share” program.
Located in the Pee Dee Agriporium in Marion, the Food Hub resulted from state agencies, local legislators, and economic developers teaming up to find a project that could benefit citizens and provide a somewhat recession-proof investment for economically battered Marion County. South Carolina Rural Development agreed to locate one of four planned Food Hubs in Marion and the state invested $2 million to fund the project.
“I really applaud Marion County for thinking outside the box,” said S.C. State Representative Wayne George (District 57), noting that the county is working with several state agencies to grow the Food Hub and bring small farmers – both established and new – into the fold, regardless of how much acreage they’re working with.
“You could have a garden in your backyard and grow produce that could be utilized by the Food Hub,” said George. “(Getting established) isn’t going to happen overnight, but once it gets started it will provide plenty of opportunities.”
Jody Martin, director of Pee Dee Food Hub and longtime Clemson Extension agent, said good, conscientious farmers are needed to fill a growing need for wholesome fruits and vegetables that haven’t spent ten days to two weeks in transport from South America. Martin said a similar food hub has been established in Charleston, but that facility primarily services the city’s restaurants. The Pee Dee Food Hub would offer shares to both institutions (businesses, colleges, churches) and individuals, giving everyone access to fresh produce with an unprecedented level of accountability and quality control.
Grower members will be held to high standards for the produce they grow and the methods they use. For example, growers may not use fields adjacent to or downhill from animal pastures to prevent runoff contamination. They must provide traceability of their products from planting to growing to harvesting, and must use irrigation to ensure consistent quality and quantity. Grower members must carry a minimum of $1 million in liability insurance (costing around $300 per year), but Martin observed that increasing coverage to $2 million can open additional retail markets.
Transparency is expected, and growers must maintain an open door policy for multiple field visits throughout the year. Attendance at several field days, seminars, and meetings is required. Growers will pay a $125 membership fee to help cover member services and assure a buy-in from each grower, vesting them in providing the product they promised so the warehouse can accurately plan availability.
Membership benefits include delivery and customer service to help establish recurring sales outlets, food safety training to ensure good agricultural practices, marketing assistance to promote the farm and farmer and to secure the “Certified SC Grown” designation, and connections to secure good rates on liability insurance and hire legal migrant workers through the H2-A program.
Reputable farms and farmers would be an integral part of the Food Hub’s marketing strategy, providing customers with traceability and name recognition – of both farm and farmer – for every item they buy.
“We will be able to trace everything we sell from the seed to the fork,” said Martin.
The Pee Dee Food Hub is currently communicating with local farmers to gauge interest and spread the word about their plans, which should kick into a higher gear come January with facility construction and logistics hitting a stride.
To learn more about the Pee Dee Food Hub, check out www.PeeDeeFoodHub.com and visit them at the Pee Dee Agriporium, located at 3215 Bluff Road in Marion. Also, more info will be available at the S.C. AgriBiz & Farm Expo on January 13 and 14 at the Florence Civic Center.