Popularity of Fresh Food Grows In Lakelands
March 22, 2012
By ST. CLAIRE DONAGHY
Greenwood, SC - Sharon Alvarez, a current board member for the Greenwood County Farmers Market, said increasing popularity of farmers' markets in the Lakelands is evidence of more consumers wanting fresh food, picked at the height of freshness and ripeness.
"Local is better, no doubt," Alvarez said, noting she herself has been a local market grower "forever," producing herbs, vegetables and a few ornamental plants.
James Hodges, Greenwood County Clemson Extension agent, said more people today are growing their own vegetables and many express interest in being able to sell some of what they grow. Also, increasing numbers of people are interested in buying and eating fresh and local foods.
"Food travels 20 miles to get to you, not 2,000," Alvarez said. "The food you're getting at farmers' markets is typically handled by only the grower and the person who picks it. Often, that is the same person.
"Food you buy elsewhere may be handled by field hands who pick it, packing house employees, truckers, distributors and grocery store workers before you and your family consume it."
Abbeville farmer Penny Parisi of Parisi Farms at the Uptown Greenwood Market Stands
Newton O'Dell, Greenwood County Farmers Market manager, said the reason for growth of local markets is simple - people want fresh, less processed food.
"People are embracing healthier lifestyles," O'Dell said. "They want food that was picked today, or yesterday. Much food in the national food supply grown here was picked two to three weeks ago, and it could be even longer if the food was grown in South America, China, Spain or South Africa."
Budget conscious shoppers, young and old, are coming to the market, O'Dell said. Additionally, promotional programs by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, such as Certified SC Grown products and the Fresh on the Menu restaurant designations are increasing awareness of local foods, O'Dell said.
Markets participating in WIC - the federal special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children - and SNAP (food stamps) are upping the number of shoppers, too, O'Dell said.
"By having more markets in the area, and by scheduling markets on different days of the week, it is making shopping more convenient for customers," O'Dell said. "With multiple markets available, growers can sell at more than one market, too."
Paul Coleman, a homestead farmer in Hodges, who sells from his farm and at the produce stands in Uptown Greenwood, said he knows demand is up for fresh and local food, because he has increased his acreage for growing crops thanks to the overwhelming popularity of the Uptown Greenwood stands and others like it in the area.
Greenwood City Manager Charlie Barrineau said "locally grown foods and value-added products are here to stay."
"It's a win-win economically for Greenwood," Barrineau said. "It keeps dollars right here in our community and provides fresher, healthier and better tasting food, from the 'farm to the fork.'"
In 2011, Barrineau said Uptown Greenwood Market stands worked with a handful of farmers, but the inaugural year was so successful that "interest from the farming community has doubled for 2012."
Barrineau also said the City of Greenwood has worked with farmers to develop expanded operation hours.
"We are hopeful demand continues to grow to where farmers will be needed to supply locally grown produce year-round," Barrineau said, noting some 4,000 cars pass by the stands daily and the stands are located near Self Regional Medical Center, which Barrineau said "is one of Greenwood's most predominant health conscious employers."
In addition to supplying locally grown vegetables to individual shoppers, Barrineau said local growers are also supplying them to local eateries, including R3 Bistro in Uptown Greenwood, the Village Grill in Abbeville and Grits and Groceries in Belton.