It’s difficult to miss the giant billboard on I-26 between Columbia and Newberry featuring two happy children, one eating a slice of dripping watermelon and the other a juicy peach, with a slogan reading, “Ask for South Carolina. Nothing Fresher, Nothing Finer.” Or you might notice on a visit to a favorite restaurant a sign on the entryway door or window that says, “Eat locally. Dine responsibly,” or “Locally grown. It’s to dine for.” There also are magazine advertisements and television commercials extolling the virtues of eating produce grown in the Palmetto State. These ads and marketing tools are just a sampling of the massive push that the Department of Agriculture has made to help South Carolinians identify and buy locally-grown produce.
In 2006, the Department began teaming up with producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers
with a common goal of sustaining agriculture in the state.Ansley Turnblad, coordinator of the Certified SC Grown program, says, “There has been a steady stream of applications since we launched the program. It’s growing in every sector of agriculture. Our reach is expanding all the time as is our program. It’s been tremendous … a win-win situation.”
Generally, products are eligible for inclusion in the program if they are grown, manufactured or processed in the state. There are currently close to 1,200 members statewide, and more than 300 grocery stores statewide carry Certified SC Grown signage next to their products.
Fresh on the Menu, the second phase of the program, which launched in 2008, involves partnering with restaurants whose chefs agree to comprise 25 percent of their menus with Certified South Carolina grown foods, as well as indicate support for the program on the menu. So far, there are 350 Fresh on the Menu partners in the state, with 43 of those located in Richland County.
“We participate in Fresh on the Menu because our restaurant features foods indigenous to the region,” says Brian Dukes, executive chef and general manager of Blue Marlin, located in the Vista. “It fits in well with our food philosophy. Local food tastes better, it’s fresher, and it does not have to travel very far.”
Brian and other restaurateurs enjoy working with local farmers and food producers and feel good about offering South Carolina grown items to customers.
“We sell a ton of collard greens and have a great relationship with Walter P. Rawl and Sons for collards, spinach, onions and sometimes beets,” he says. “We also sell a ton of grits and have a great relationship with Adluh Milling Company.”
Brian also purchases products from Orangeburg Pecan Company and Abundant Seafood. He says, “We are fortunate to have so many great food producers in our state, and I think the Department of Agriculture has done a great job of bringing chefs and producers together to help promote each other. Because of this program, today’s consumers are more aware of local foods and interested in where they can find them.”
Merchandising the Movement
The grandson of a sharecropper, Ken Carey and his family have farmed for years on the 40 acres of land they own in Pelion where they have a pecan orchard and a fishpond. The Certified SC Grown movement caught his attention in 2011 when he stopped in at City Roots, near Owens Field, and saw one of Certified SC Grown’s slogans, “Nothing Fresher, Nothing Finer.”
“I joked with a buddy of mine, ‘That’s my wife when she’s in a good mood. Where can I get one of those shirts?’” Ken says. He looked up the Certified SC Grown website later, and he was impressed by what he saw, but he couldn’t find any merchandise for sale.
Having majored in journalism at the University of South Carolina and with some experience in marketing, Ken began talking to Certified SC Grown members and people at the Department of Agriculture about promoting a line of apparel with the Certified SC Grown logo. “They were all in favor of it,” he says.
Ken enjoys not only suporting farmers and producers, like Yon Family Farms, but also visiting with them. Photo courtesy of Ken Carey
With the Department’s support, and a portion of the proceeds going toward their internal marketing program, Ken launched a merchandise line in August. It includes t-shirts, aprons, baby items and hats, all for sale on the BuyCertifiedSC.com website.
The Gourmet Shop, Uptown on Main, Yandle’s Roadside Market, Jacob’s Produce at the S.C. Farmers Market, The Cotton Exchange at the S.C. State Museum, Cayce’s Ace Hardware, Moe Levy’s, Mast General Store, The Backpacker and The OOPS! Company are retail partners where Certified SC Grown apparel is featured prominently. While the retail stores do not have to be members of Certified SC Grown, Ken’s goal is to encourage members and Fresh on the Menu restaurants to also carry some of the merchandise. Currently, The Farmer’s Shed in Lexington is the only restaurant offering the apparel.
As Ken gets the word out, he’s finding that Certified SC Grown members are interested in dual branding merchandise, which carries both the program brand and their own logos.
“My goal is not just to sell shirts or any one item; it’s to increase loyalty to the Certified SC family,” he says.
Passionate about spreading the word about Certified SC Grown, Ken has a blog on the KNOWSC section of his website where he shares information on South Carolina farmers, as well as comments about food and dining experiences at Fresh on the Menu restaurants. He’s also working with South Carolina schools, many of which serve Certified SC Grown produce and some of which participate in the Farm to School program. The schools in Lexington District One serve many Certified SC Grown fruits and vegetables, specifically featuring two each month. Rebecca Kenner, field supervisor in the Office of Food Service and Nutrition for Lexington School District One, is proud that some of her schools have even earned Fresh on the Menu status.
Ken also has facilitated a partnership between the South Carolina Philharmonic and the S.C. Department of Agriculture. The season finale concert on April 28, which features composers and performers with South Carolina roots, has been officially declared Certified SC Grown.
Since stumbling onto this opportunity, Ken says the farming blood in him has taken hold. He enjoys not only supporting farmers and producers, but also visiting with them. He talks to them about how the merchandise is helping promote Certified SC Grown, sometimes trading a few t-shirts for some South Carolina products, and he helped Jackson Brothers Farms build a website.
Ken Carey, center, with cookbook authors, travel writers and South Carolina natives The Lee Brothers. Photo courtesy of Ken Carey
“Recently I spent the day with the photographer shooting photos for the website. We went to farms and met the owners. It’s very interesting to learn about these farms and what they do,” Ken says.
From websites to t-shirts to non-traditional partnerships, Ken’s certainly on the ball, getting the word out about the great produce available right here in South Carolina.
Photo Courtesy of SC Department of Agriculture