Here’s a natural off-shoot of the region’s growing love for locally-grown produce: a novel program is encouraging new farmers to hit the fields. Clemson University’s New and Beginning Farmer program joins Trident Tech’s Sustainable Agriculture continuing education program and Lowcountry Local First’s Growing New Farmers Incubator in a truly fruitful collaboration.
Clemson’s program launched this year with 36 farmers. Program coordinator David Lamie explained to the Post & Courier: “The state needs to encourage new farmers to enter the business because today’s farmers are aging. And the recent increase in the demand for locally grown foods, along with the premium price farmers can get for them, makes it a good time to enter the business. Some of the new farmers in the program are growing traditional ‘row crops.’ But others are producing for niche markets including: growing hops, which can be used to make beer; raising turkeys; and even raising water buffalo, the milk from which can be used to make high-end mozzarella.”
The program as described on the Clemson website:
The South Carolina New and Beginning Farmers program (SCNBFP) is focused on enabling new and beginning farmers to be successful, productive, and innovative members of their local agricultural community by providing them with the tools, knowledge and skills necessary to be successful entrepreneurs; sound business managers; exemplary stewards of SWAPA (soil, water, air, plants, and animals), and successful marketers of the unique products they create; and, perhaps most importantly, individuals who have a sense of pride and quality of life as a result of their investment and participation in the agricultural community of South Carolina.
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Lowcountry Local First have joined the program as partners, and several state and national agencies serve as collaborators, like USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service and SC Department of Agriculture.
One program graduate has already started farming through the non-profit Sweetgrass Garden Co-op, a two-acre plot on Johns Island that grows produce for the area’s needy.