Wednesday afternoons normally are quiet on Thornhill Farm just north of McClellanville.
Midweek, Maria Baldwin of Daniel Island, Thornhill's farmer, has time to check on the first organic crops of the season. A few rows of juicy, sweet strawberries have ripened and the green garlic is ready to pull.
The organic farm is relatively small at 15 acres, and Baldwin almost doesn't have enough to meet the demands of people both interested in the farm's community supported agriculture program and customers of the farmers markets that will open in Mount Pleasant and Charleston next month. But she said it's a good thing. It's a sign of resurgence in the family farm, she said.
Baldwin, who also operates a kitchen table cuisine program in which she collects locally produced products and delivers them in an old-fashioned, milkman-style program, said she's just beginning to see a change take place.
There's been a growth in local food entrepreneurs and customers as awareness of the problems associated with corporate agriculture grows, Baldwin said.
Catherine McGuinn of James Island and Trident Technical College's sustainable farming program coordinator, said people are becoming more aware of where their food comes from and the importance of eating locally produced foods.
According to John Ikerd's "2050 in America: Food and Farms of the Future," local foods have been the fastest growing segment of the food system over the past two decades, roughly doubling in size every three to four years. Ikerd is professor emeritus at the University of Missouri-Columbia and author of "Sustainable Capitalism."
If South Carolina's demand for locally produced food increased at the pace of surrounding states, the state could expect the agribusiness sector of the economy to grow by $335 million, according to Trident Tech's grant application for a Department of Labor farm training program.
McGuinn taught an Intro to Sustainable Agriculture course at the college last year and said the interest for the class was so high that she was asked to help create a sustainable agriculture program as part of TTC's green initiative.
A few instructors are teaching sustainable agriculture classes at the St. Paul's Parish site in Hollywood. Many of them begin in April.
Some of the students may already be farming, but McGuinn said anyone could grow their own food in their backyard.
McGuinn said, "You would be surprised at the amount of food you can grow in a small area. You might not be able to feed the world, but you could definitely feed a family."
Farms have grown in small increments across the country. Ikerd wrote in "Who are the New Farmers" that farms saw virtually no growth from 1992 to 2002 and a 4 percent increase from 2002 to 2007.
But these new farmers aren't necessarily sustainable growers.
Ikerd said farms that sold more than $250,000 in products saw significant increases, which means that some operations are simply growing larger. But the greatest increase has been in what Ikerd calls hobby farming that generates less than $1,000 in income annually.
Baldwin began as a hobby farmer volunteering at Thornhill Farm, which its owners, Marybeth and Gary Thornhill, purchased in 2005 to create an adaptive therapy garden for their son and students in northern Charleston County.
She now farms about 12 acres of the land to grow organic vegetables for farmers markets and keeps a coop of free-range hens for eggs.
A heritage garden at the front of the farm is used to grow native vegetables for downtown chefs.
Thornhill Farm is one of 16 to offer community supported agriculture programs in the Charleston area, according to Elizabeth Beak, program director of the sustainable agriculture initiative at Lowcountry Local First, which promotes buying local products.
Beak said three years ago, Legare Farms on Johns Island provided the only CSA program in which people could purchase shares of the farm during growing seasons and receive a weekly delivery. Beak said she's seen an increase in the number of farm programs and shares purchased.
"A farmer doesn't grow unless there is a want and desire," Beak said.
The local eating season has just begun, Beak said. Many area farms are taking CSA memberships through April and will be represented at local farmers markets.
Baldwin plans to start off slow, bringing eggs, strawberries, pea tendrils and green garlic to market.
Reach Jessica Miller at 937-5921.
To learn more about community supported agriculture shares, go to http://lowcountrylocalfirst.org /community_supported_agriculture.Or sign up for the next CSA class April 26 at Charleston Cooks! Farmers from a CSA program will share recipes for their products and cook them.Elizabeth Beak, Lowcountry Local First sustainable agriculture initiative program director, said it's a great way to get a feel for what a CSA program is and see if it's a good fit.Sign up for the class at www.mavericksouthernkitchens.com /charlestoncooks.