Farmers markets are a growing industry in South Carolina. That’s true in more ways than one. Though this state has a rich tradition in agriculture, locally-grown produce has experienced a resurgence in popularity. Now there are 90 community markets, twice the number of five years ago, says state Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers.Weathers says, “What we like about farmers markets is that the farmer is getting a greater share of the retail value of food and at a farmers market, given the overhead costs that are negated-rather than through the regular channels–the price is a little bit better for the consumer.”
Weathers says the product is better too, because of the relationship between a fresh-cut product and its nutritional value.
Nationwide, the most recent estimate of farmers market commerce from 2006 was $ 1.1 billion dollars and growing.
Weathers says that another huge benefit of such markets is less tangible. “The social spin-off of farmers markets that I’ve witnessed personally is fascinating. The Conway Farmers Market slogan, I think, is ‘Great Vegetables and Great Gossip.'”
The month of August is South Carolina Farmers Market Month. There are three state-managed farmers markets, located in Columbia, Greenville and Florence.
Community markets are strategically placed, says Weathers, citing the Bluffton location in an historic South Carolina Dispensary building. The one on the University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus is being duplicated at Clemson University so that age group will include healthy food choices in their lifelong decisions.
And in the community markets: the state agriculture department helps those vendors … and their nutritionally at-risk customers.
“Our role with them is through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program or the Senior Adult Nutrition program,” says Weathers, “We manage some of the components of those. We train farmers market vendors and in order for him to qualify to take coupons from these folks, he has to go through a training program.”
“While we don’t manage the day-to-day part of those operations, we facilitate a lot of the benefits of having them,” he says.”
This week is National Farmers Market Week.