October 31, 2014

State Farmers Market open, partially

The State Farmers Market is up and running at its new location in Lexington County, although it’s not yet finished. A developer for the site says while some of the larger wholesalers have moved in, the rest of the vendors will be there by the end of the month. 

Heavy spring rain delayed construction, meaning the state Department of Agriculture had to postpone the opening until late summer. Since this conflicted with the end of the growing season, officials allowed some of the site’s vendors to remain at the old Farmers Market in downtown Columbia until October 29.

Meanwhile, some of the larger wholesale vendors who had finished construction on their facilities (such as VB Hook and Senn Brothers) were allowed to move in September. The mid-sized wholesalers will be permitted to temporarily occupy farmer’s sheds on the property, which would otherwise be empty until the South Carolina growing season begins again in February. Those tenants are expected to move into their own facilities next year.

George Lee is the market’s developing partner from 321 Lexington Associates. He says the new site is much better designed and safer for customers than the long-time Columbia location. One reason will be the seperation between the smaller vendors open to the average customer, and the larger distribution companies.

That was a big drawback in the old market because the wholesale terminal part of the market… was trying to operate in the midst of the farmers and it just didn’t work. It wasn’t safe to take a child out there if it was busy… It really couldn’t function. It had to be moved.

Although the Market won’t hold its “official” launch until the growing season begins in the spring, three vendors are already at the site selling produce. Lee says they’re doing quite well.

They’re saying, ‘look, every five to ten minutes we have have anywhere from five, to seven, to ten cars come through here.’ These people are just riding through to look at the market, and they’re stopping and buying product.

One of the new market’s perks is a building that houses retailers in a special climate-controlled envioronment. Lee says its just one of the features that puts the new market into a special category. He says it’s one of only two markets on the east coast that meets all of the federal requirements for wholesale food handling.

The state Department of Agriculture hopes the new market will bring back customers after a steady decline at the old location. Lee said one selling point is that it offers the freshest food in the state.

We’re going to have product that was picked that morning many times. I don’t know you’d get it any fresher. Even if it was from Florida in the non-season, it’s being flown to trucks and brought to the market that day. 

The site is located on US Highway 321 southwest of Columbia and is visible from Interstate 26.

Site plan for new Farmers Market