The COPASCities program at USC in conjunction with the Midlands Local Food Collaborative surveyed 77 food producing farmers throughout the Midlands between August 2013-July 2014. The main purposes of the survey were to: identify barriers farmers face in producing and selling food for human consumption; the level of demand for locally farmed foods; and the potential need for a food hub in the region. The findings of the survey tell us that farmers see access to capital, processing regulations, the need for skilled labor, the labor pay scale, and food safety certifications as the top obstacles to farming in the Midlands.
Quotes from farmers throughout the Midlands who were surveyed are below. Hope these snippets help us understand the perspectives of Midlands food-producing farmers.
"The demand for Local/Real food is overwhelming. We have customers from other towns that come to buy from us because they may not be near a 'healthy' grocery store, etc. that has food that they feel good about feeding to their families. The demand is here."
"Competition for everything comes in at once when it comes to produce; I'm always competing with other farmers."
"People like to talk about local food, but they also like happy hour. People here aren't going to put a dent in their happy hour money to be able to buy food locally."
"There needs to be a legislative mandate that makes some entities buy local. We don't need to be selling California produce in stores during times when local growers are/can grow the same things."
"We need to secure natural laws, grandfather in that every human has the right to produce/grow/sell their food and eat it themselves. No one's regulating what squirrels eat, and they're just fine."
"The days of subsidies helping farmers are few and far between. And we don't want more loans. Clarity with the Farm Bill and what it means and clearing up the programs would be useful."
"Having to have the right facilities to process....I would really like to process greens. There really is no place for me to process them. I'd have to go all of the way to Hilton Head from Orangeburg."
"Regulation: I'm on FDA's target list because what I produce is full of bacteria (good bacteria--but sometimes bad bacteria can get in). Grocery stores are starting to not carry my product and products like mine for liability reasons."
"Knowing what can/can't do in terms of growing, zoning laws, etc. It's difficult to navigate different levels of government's laws, rules, and regulations."
"Transportation is a HUGE issue for me...How do we create efficiencies with delivery and distribution?"
"A month and a half ago I attended a conference in Greenville and was discouraged because I was surrounded by small farmers, and I'm not a small farmer. I didn't like the tones of these small guys talking about the ‘big growers’."
"I'm old and may not farm for much longer. I used to sell to Piggly Wiggly 20 years ago, but now they’re going away and big grocery stores have laws and can't buy from the little guys as easily anymore because of all of the laws now."
"Small farmers are dying out. Where are our new farmers? You have to have a whole lot of money to start a farm. And all the good land is disappearing."
"We used to make and sell jams and jellies but now you have to do that in a commercial kitchen and regulations are strict so we don't do it anymore."
"My biggest problem is processing- the plant is 3 hours away and it is very costly."
"Farming inputs cost more now due to the price of petroleum and competition from China and other countries are using more technical ag supplies like fertilizer which makes it harder to compete."
"Would love to have products in ‘bricks and mortar’ so that we don't have to physically sell it ourselves. We could focus on the farm."
"I can't sell to Bi-Lo because I don't have enough liability insurance. So food hubs sound good. I'm not lacking markets though--If I grow it, I can sell it! Children also need to learn where food comes from. And people need to learn about farming so they stop being nit picky and wanting to shut down big ag. At the same time I don't believe in big farms raking in tax incentives and subsidies."
"If you have a passion or an idea to produce a product it's just such a daunting task to figure out what's needed to be "legal" to sell to the general public."