Shrimp and grits…Smoky collards…Peach cobbler…She-Crab soup…Huguenot torte… Fried Green Tomatoes…Sweet potato pone…Hungry yet?
Most visitors to Charleston, South Carolina place these specialties of Lowcountry cuisine high on their list of attractions to the region, along with the beautiful coastal landscape and historic architecture. Long known for cultivating some of America’s most creative chefs and finest restaurants, the area has a rich history of a diverse agricultural sector, producing large quantities of tomatoes, rice, and vegetables on the islands surrounding the urban core. However, with changing markets, development pressure, and rising land prices, local farms are disappearing.
Seizing Local Food Opportunities
American Farmland Trust helped identify key issues facing producers and buyers during our initial exploration of local foods opportunities this past year. Now, a new initiative of Lowcountry Local First and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League has formed to begin putting these ideas into action.
Alan Moore, a recent graduate with a Masters in Environmental Studies from the College of Charleston, is heading up this effort to develop new opportunities for farmers. Seeing the impacts of the land use changes in the Charleston area from the loss of farms, Moore spoke to many families who attributed the sale of their farm to a lack of good marketing channels to their produce. At the same time, he saw a rising tide of interest in local foods around the country, with successful examples of new marketing avenues for farms in communities around the southeast.
“It’s amazing that this area still has no Community Supported Agriculture ventures; this is a great opportunity for small diversified farms,” says Moore. “At the same time, we have a long history of wholesale vegetable production. These midsize farmers have challenges of land, labor, and out-of-state competition, but we can work with our groceries to highlight the locally-grown angle; no one can be any fresher than that.”
“I see so many opportunities waiting to happen in this area that the hardest part will be deciding where to start,” says Moore. “Our goal will be to create some clear success stories quickly. Once farmers see examples of what can be done, I’m confident that plenty of creative marketing ideas will emerge.”
It's Not Farmland Without Farmers
A final piece of the puzzle is the large amount of protected land in the region. If new farmers can be identified to grow food on these affordable fields, a whole new generation of agriculture can develop in the region. American Farmland Trust and the North Carolina Farm Transition Network are partnering with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture to expand outreach and technical assistance to retiring and beginning farmers to help that transition to the next generation. AFT will be organizing a set of regional workshops over the winter to explore that issue around the state.
For more information, contact Alan Moore of Lowcountry Local First or Gerry Cohn, American Farmland Trust Southeast States Director.
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