So you want to be a farmer?
Maybe you just want to grow in your backyard for your family or perhaps manage a few acres and make some money. There are lots of advantages. For one, locally grown food does not have to travel from the West Coast. Therefore, it matures in the field, which can improve the nutritional value. Also, supporting local farmers supports the local economy and contributes more value to the community.
Whether you grow your own food or purchase from a local farmer, you’re more familiar with what you’re eating. I know the spinach in my yard is pesticide-free and it goes from the ground straight to our table.
There are so many options to growing your own food that it can be overwhelming. Should you seed or transplant? When should you plant and harvest? How should you prepare the soil?
There are local farmers who help homeowners with backyard gardening, such as Rita’s Roots (www.ritasroots.com). Rita holds workshops as well as private consultations to educate and assist homeowners on garden preparation and harvest.
Backyard gardening, or edible landscaping, is small-scale farming. If you feel like this is your calling, there are opportunities in the Lowcountry to step up your game.
I grew up in the Midwest where oceans of corn and soybeans extended across the horizon and those who tended the land were born and raised on the farm. Agriculture in the Lowcountry is much more diverse than the Midwest. A variety of vegetables and fruits are grown throughout the year. So if you weren’t born on a farm, how do you learn the trade?
Lowcountry Local First is growing new farmers.
The Growing New Farmers Program is a six-month program that includes classroom knowledge and hands-on experience with small- to mid-size sustainable farming.
Introductory coursework provides the intellectual groundwork for growing crops in addition to establishing a successful agribusiness operation. Field trips and guest lectures expose students to the diverse Lowcountry farming community, providing them with a network of professional and farming resources.
Most importantly, students have an opportunity to actually farm.
They frequently work at the Middleton Place USDA Certified Organic Farm, a 1-acre farm used as a teaching plot to support activities and training on equipment and farming techniques. This opportunity connects what is taught in the classroom with field applications.
Qualified applicants also have the opportunity to work with local farmers. This is a mentoring program that matches students with relevant hands-on experiences. And while the focus is on farming, many participants don’t necessarily become farmers but use their training in some facet of agricultural or food-related industries.
Classes start March 5. The application deadline is Feb. 16.
If you’re happy with backyard gardening but still want to support local agriculture, there are many opportunities.
A comprehensive map of Lowcountry farmers can be found at lowcountrylocalfirst.org/map. Many of them offer community-supported agriculture programs, known as CSAs.
In a CSA, you pay for a share of a farmer’s harvest before the growing season begins. Each week, a box of freshly harvested produce is put together for each participant. In some cases, farmers provide drop-off points for convenient pick up.
Farmers markets also are a great way to shop locally. There are dozens of them around the Lowcountry. A comprehensive list can be found at lowcountrylocalfirst.org/lowcountry-farmers-markets.
To shop locally in the Lowcountry, a Lowcountry Local First app is available for your phone. It provides a directory of more than 600 local businesses that can be located via interactive map. The app can be used to take the Eat Local Challenge in April: Users are challenged to allocate $10 or more a week to locally grown food choices.
More than 90 percent of South Carolina’s food is imported. The Eat Local Food challenge is a way to use seasonally grown food in the Lowcountry. The app makes it easy to find recipes as well as your local farmer.
Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.