Food coalition celebrates kick-off

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By Nancy Parsons

Gloria Kellerhals and Ben Boyles have been “joined at the hip” for hours on end.

The two have worked together to increase awareness of the Catawba Regional Local Food Coalition.

“Ben has worked hours and hours and hours,” Kellerhals said. “We’ve been together almost 24/7.”

Kellerhals is retired after working 20 years as a recruiter. Boyles is an economic and community development extension agent with Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. The two have worked tirelessly to promote a five-county food coalition.

A kick-off to celebrate the coalition was held Aug. 28 and was attended by representatives of the five surrounding counties, the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Department of Commerce.
“We’re getting a lot of support on the state level,” Kellerhals said.

The five-county coalition includes Chester, Fairfield, Lancaster, York and Union counties. Together, they are forming non-traditional partnerships and resources to promote small businesses and agriculture.

The coalition has five core strategies – sustainable agriculture education, agribusiness development and diversification, strategic partnerships and planning, and a new local food system marketing channel.

“We’ve reached the point that we need people who believe in agriculture,” Kellerhals said. “This is the first time five counties in the state of South Carolina have come together to try to accomplish this. We are at a crossroads where we need more brains and hands.”

Regular meetings, a monthly news letter, a website and a Google group are key elements in communication with the coalition, Boyles said.

“We will facilitate the development of new marketing channels including farmer’s markets, online market platforms, institutional arrangements and community supported agriculture,” Boyles said.

A volunteer group, the Catawba Regional Local Food Coalition has gained endorsement from the five county councils with resolutions of support to encourage small business and agriculture.

“It’s a real chance for the Catawba region to be a national model,” Kellerhals said. “It’s a beginning.”

“Local food is a critical ingredient in regional economic and community development,” Boyles said. “The rural economy of South Carolina’s Catawba Region has been devastated due to the sharp decline of the area’s textile industry over the past decade. Increased globalization of the manufacturing sector has created an out-migration of economic opportunity in the region, leaving behind high unemployment, pervasive poverty and fragile communities.”

Boyles said new economic development strategies will be required to create wealth and sustain the regional economy in the years ahead.

“We believe sustainable agribusiness development, if properly supported, can be a strategy that will attract new investment and support the region’s ‘triple bottom line,’ our economy, our environment and the social well-being of our communities,” Boyles said.

The Catawba Regional Local Food Coalition will partner with new and beginning farmers to get in the business of agriculture.

There is a lot of money to be made in specialty crops that are not mass produced and are high in nutrition, Kellerhals noted.

Local agriculture has made a huge comeback because of its nutritional value and because people are interested in knowing farmers and how they grow products that are nutritionally better.