On August 4th, 2014 a network of farm-related agencies called The Midlands Local Food Collaborative hosted The Future of Midlands Farms and Food Summit. Over 100 farmers, Ag educators, chefs, extension agents, food writers, producers, and eaters gathered to discuss the most pressing issues involving farming and eating in the 50 mile radius surrounding Columbia, South Carolina referred to as “The Midlands”. After the summit, community members had selected four areas of focus for Midlands food systems work (Farm to School/Farm to Institution, Land Access, Agriculture Education, and Farm Labor) yet no local-food-focused, grassroots entity existed to work on these issues. The Midlands Food Alliance was formed the last week of September 2014 as a grassroots group under the nonprofit Sustainable Midlands umbrella to advocate and educate for a sustainable and equitable, localized food system in the Midlands of South Carolina.
Volunteers with the Midlands Food Alliance called through farmer, grocer, farmers market, and roadside stand lists to create the 2015 Midlands Local Food Guide printed by Sustainable Midlands and distributed at the Tasty Tomato Festival, 14 Carrot, Rosewood Market, Terra, farmer and food access meetings, the Orangeburg DORA Farmers Market, the Forest Acres Farmers Market, the Lake Carolina Farmers Market, the Grow Newberry Farmers Market, the Ridge Spring Farmers Market, the Richland County Farm Bureau Meeting, and online. Even with a limited budget, the 2015 Midlands Local Food Guide has served to increase membership in the Midlands Food Alliance and identify host sites for the Midlands Food Alliance potluck networking events for farmers and eaters who care about supporting local food production.
The time is ripe for identifying area food producing farmers to connect them with more outlets to sell their products. The Midlands Food Guide will connect local producers with chefs, retailers, distributors, schools, government agencies that work with farmers on a regular basis, and with each other. The Midlands Farmer Survey conducted by the USDA funded COPASCities project from fall 2013 through summer 2014 found that 77% of Midlands food-producing farmers are interested in selling through outlets they do not currently use. The lack of comprehensive farm lists in the region was a huge hurdle to surveying farmers. Many of these farmers did not use the internet regularly or feel connected with other farmers and agricultural organizations. The goal is that Midlands farmers will be connected with more outlets to sell their product (restaurants, retailers, distributors, households) through the development of a Midlands Local Food Guide annually. If it was difficult for the COPASCities research project to comprehensively reach food-producing farmers in the region with the support of agricultural agencies who are a part of the Midlands Local Food Collaborative, how much more difficult is it for the everyday consumer, chefs, and distribution businesses to connect, purchase, and potentially aggregate from local farmers. The Midlands Food Guide will serve as a resource to make these connections easier.
In 2013, a study was produced for the State of South Carolina called Making Small Farms Big Business: A plan for Infrastructure Investments to Connect Small Farms in South Carolina to Local Markets. The plan suggests the creation of “a statewide knowledge base with a thorough list of growers producing for local markets, and integrating lessons learned as food activity widens across the state” and holds the consumer ultimately responsible in supporting the growth of locally produced foods:
“Critical to strengthening the competitiveness of South Carolina’s agriculture will be to build strong connections between farmers and state residents. Amidst a global market that features a wealth of food products from exotic locations, it will ultimately be the willingness of state consumers to hold deep loyalty for local farmers and food brands that will be crucial for transforming agriculture’s potential.”
“If each Palmetto State resident purchased $5 of food directly from a South Carolina farm each week, this would yield $1.2 billion in revenue for the state’s farmers, a significant step toward the state’s 50×20 vision. This is about as much revenue as 2,090 South Carolina farms earned selling broilers and turkeys in 2011.” This would be an increase of 44% in SC’s farm revenue, assuming state farmers continued to sell all the commodities they currently produce.”
“One key to ensuring consumer loyalty to South Carolina products is to ensure that each ultimate consumer can identify the farm where the food they buy was produced.”