“Certified SC” campaign a great resource when trying to eat local
Five years ago, the S.C. Department of Agriculture launched its “Certified SC Grown” marketing campaign with $600,000 in seed money from the Legislature. The logo was meant to help consumers identify and buy produce grown within the state, thereby supporting its farmers.
Within a couple of years, the campaign expanded to include restaurants and specialty food producers.
Restaurants that agree to prepare menus with at least 25 percent Certified SC Grown foods can brand themselves as “Fresh on the Menu” participants. More than 40 establishments are listed on the department's website in Charleston County alone, although there are some local-centric restaurants conspicuously absent, such as Fat Hen and Butcher & Bee.
Foodmakers within our borders, many of which use South Carolina ingredients but not exclusively, also can display the “Certified SC Product” label.
Examples abound in the Lowcountry, such as Callie's Charleston Biscuits, Charleston Coffee Roasters and Neita's Charleston Vinaigrettes and Marinades.
Stephen Hudson, a spokesman for the department, told me this week that “Certified SC” came to being when “people really started thinking about where their food comes from. We hit at the right time.”
The body of evidence is growing that “eating local” is not some pie-in-sky, food faddist phenomenon but is becoming more important to mainstream America.
Hudson pointed out that more farmers markets are being launched “organically” throughout South Carolina. “Communities themselves are starting them,” he said, such as Florence and Sumter, two of the newer ones. Statewide, the number of farmers markets totals 115 this year, up from 70 in 2007.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service also does a farm census every five years, with a new one due out in December.
Hudson said the number of farms in South Carolina already was up 5 percent in the last census compared with the previous one. He's expecting to see the numbers climb again.
Major grocery store chains are paying attention as well, Hudson said. South Carolina-based Piggly Wiggly, for one, entered a partnership with the department in 2010 to increase its promotion of state produce and products. The company, you probably have noticed, is in the midst of its own advertising campaign titled “Local since forever.”
Piggly Wiggly spokesman Christopher Ibsen said the partnership has strengthened the grocer's relationship with South Carolina farmers, helping to “connect the dots” and find more sources for produce. One example is Coosaw Farms in Fairfax, which now supplies nearly all the blueberries and watermelons for the company's 85 stores within the state. The fruits were obtained from multiple sources before.
But other supermarkets are boosting their South Carolina inventory, too, including IGA, Wal-Mart, Bi-Lo and Publix, he said. For example, Publix started selling South Carolina peaches in its in-state stores only two years ago, a move that proved very popular with shoppers.
Stores “answer to the consumer,” Hudson said. So if you want South Carolina stuff where you shop, tell the produce manager or the manager.
“A lot of what drives this is consumer demand. We'll help put them (stores) in touch with farmers to help them find what they need.”
The Certified SC campaign has nearly 1,300 members, not including restaurants, according to Hudson. They are listed with contact information on the website in various ways, so if you're looking for local food, certifiedscgrown.com is a great resource.
Certified SC also has 5,550 Facebook followers and 3,400 on Twitter @certified_sc. Hudson encourages postings and discussions via social media as a way to communicate and locate something you might be looking for.
As a final nod to Certified SC, a 2010 analysis by the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina said that increased local food purchasing would mean $23 million in additional revenue for the state annually and 10,000 jobs per year. The Certified SC campaign costs taxpayers about $2 million each year.
How am I doing?
There's a lot of interest in Eat Local Month, based on how many times I've been asked that question since taking the challenge from Lowcountry Local First two weeks ago. I would give myself a grade of B+ so far.
With the initial, and more intense, shopping out of the way, we are relying on our Ambrose Farm CSA for produce. A small share has been more than ample; in fact, the beets have a backlog. I have not overdosed on strawberries yet — but sure would like an apple or a citrus fruit.
We turned to a stir-fry to use up some of the veggies (my neighbor, Carolyn, another CSA newbie, said a catch-all soup was the savior at her house).
Hunters are good food friends to have, too. Co-worker Tom McGee generously donated a venison tenderloin and a couple of pounds of ground meat to my cause (well, I did ask first) and threw in valuable cooking tips. We are saving the roast for a Sunday evening dinner soon so we can take our time cooking and savoring it.
But I am taking points off my grade for a Mexican lunch out, some nibbles of Panda licorice during work, tomatoes on salads and baked Lay's potato chips, to name a few lapses in my resolve.
Time for a batch of kale chips. See the recipe at postandcourier.com/food.
Teresa Taylor is the food editor. Reach her at 937-4886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.