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Celebrate farmers markets during month of August

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What a busy summer it’s been at the S.C. Department of Agriculture. Plus, it’s been a typical South Carolina summer, which can be unbearably hot, sometimes rainy, sometimes dry. We certainly feel sympathy for so many parts of the country that are absolutely parched.
When August arrives, it means beach trips or trips to the mountains squeezed in before the kids head off to school or football practice. For many of us, August is a time to start thinking about upcoming football games on Friday nights and Saturday and plans to tailgate. For some, it’s time for final preparation for dove season.
But don’t forget, August is also Farmers Market Month in the Palmetto State. This is an extension of National Farmers Market Week that was Aug. 5-11 this year.
We celebrate farmers markets with a month because of their importance to the community as a whole and to agriculture. Farmers markets also play a key role in developing local and regional food systems that support the sustainability of family farms, revitalize communities and provide opportunities for farmers and consumers to interact. And they can reflect the character of communities across the Palmetto State.
There are 118 community-based farmers markets across the state and that number increases each year. Nationally, the number of local farmers market increased around the country by more than 1,000 to 7,175 in 2011. Farmers markets still account for only a small percentage of the food that is bought in the United States – less than 1 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Their value goes far beyond the totals on the cash register.
While many people love the convenience of a grocery store to buy their fresh South Carolina produce, others love the slower pace of the local farmers market. Each market around the state has its own identity and feel. Whether you’re in the Upstate or along the coast, farmers markets all offer fresh products and a relaxed atmosphere. Like church, I imagine each one is a good place to catch up on all the happenings from the previous week.
In addition to the community-based markets around the state, there are the three state farmers markets in the midlands in Lexington County, in the Pee Dee in Florence and the Upstate in Greenville. And don’t forget our farmers markets also host our plant and flower festivals. The fall festivals will be coming up in the next couple of months: Autumnfest in Greenville on Sept. 21-23 and the Midlands on Sept. 28-30 and finally the Pee Dee Fall Festival in Florence on Oct. 5-7. So mark your calendars now for plans to visit one (or all three) weekends.
Not only should you visit a farmers market during the month of August, you should make it a regular part of your shopping experience for your fresh foods. There are always some great deals and great people at farmers markets. Take a moment to stop in and shop your local market or maybe one where you and your family are vacationing this month.
To get to the nearest farmers market and a list of certified South Carolina members who grow, produce and sell local products, visit our website at www.agriculture.sc.gov. It seems there is always something in season at the market. With farmers markets all across the state, it’s easy to find one near where you live.

Hugh Weathers is the agriculture commissioner for South Carolina.