The local movement is staying for the long haul in the Carolinas.
“Local is No. 1 and organic is No. 2, in terms of marketing,” Kevin Hardison, marketing specialist with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said. “A lot of growers are looking to expand that effort and a lot of consumers are seeking it.”
He says the trend has even encouraged more consumers to try their hand at growing their own produce.
“We encourage people to purchase locally and help foster them to grow their own with our domestic gardener program,” Hardison said.
“We’re definitely trying to market locally, and there are plenty of good resources to help with that from the government associations,” Steven Ceccarelli, owner of Farm Fresh Produce, Faison, N.C., said.
“Everyone wants to support their community and buy from local growers, and it works well on the retail side,” Ceccarelli said.
Martin Eubanks, assistant commissioner, agricultural services for the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, said more than 500 retail stores in South Carolina participate in a merchandising campaign for the Certified South Carolina Grown program.
The department also has a program in local schools, with 52 schools that feature a South Carolina product on the menus each month.
“It could be peaches, leafy greens, or strawberries, but this program helps teach students about healthy eating,” Eubanks said.
The South Carolina State Farmers Market is another resource to promote local product.
George Lee, the developer, said the project is doing well and will likely keep expanding.
“We have separate sections, one dedicated to only South Carolina produce that is owned and managed by the Department of Agriculture under Commissioner Hugh Weathers, and another private one for all other products,” Lee said.
Lee says most customers are very interested in purchasing the local produce.
“Most people do ask for South Carolina-grown products, but of course, there are some things just not grown here,” Lee said.
Matt Solana, vice president of operations and supply chain for Jackson Farming Co., Autryville, N.C., appreciates locally grown efforts, but says the process has challenges.
“The big question is what counts as local?” Solana said.
“For the consumer, it’s driving by a field of watermelons and then going to the grocery store and expecting to see that name on shelves, but that’s not really how it works,” Solana said.
Still, Solana says grocery stores are attempting to sustain that sort of locally grown offering for consumers.
“It’s very much a big topic of conversation with the chain stores. They’re trying to work toward direct store delivery to facilitate locally grown produce within North Carolina, or any state.”
To deal with transportation challenges, Eubanks says local food hubs are a good solution.
“They act as a facilitator to handle the logistics of distribution,” he said.
In South Carolina, the food hub near Charleston helps distribute local produce directly to restaurants, taking over a task that just isn’t economical for smaller farms to handle on their own.
This allows South Carolina’s Fresh on the Menu campaign to continue to grow. The program encourages restaurants to agree to use 25% or more local ingredients on their menus.
“These local farms have to make a profit so growers may not be able to deliver produce directly. Food hubs help that, and I think we’ll see more develop as these locally grown efforts continue to grow,” Eubanks said.