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More produce stands on the way?

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State initiative might bring more stands to county

By Chris Sardelli

Fresh fruits and vegetables may soon be available along local roads and highways, as a new produce stand initiative rolls out across the state

As part of the S.C. Department of Agriculture’s S.C. Certified program, 200 farm product stands are planned for the 23 distressed and least-developed areas in the state.

A county must meet two criteria established by the Department of Revenue to be considered distressed – a high unemployment rate and a low per-capita income.

The county’s unemployment rate has been in the double-digit percentages for more than a year. It was at 17.5 percent in January, the last month that statistics were available.

Lancaster County was recently classified as a distressed county, and that means farmers here can qualify for these stands.

The initiative is sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, the S.C. Department of Corrections and the S.C. Department of Commerce.

Maceo Nance, director of rural planning for the Commerce Department, said the project has been in the works for the last year.

The idea developed after the department saw the need for more functional farm stands, either because many homemade stands have become run-down or because farmers needed another outlet to sell their produce.

“Occasionally, you’ll see people selling sweet potatoes out of the back of a truck, or you’ll see a vegetable stand with a tent as the cover,” Nance said. “We didn’t think it was the image of South Carolina that we really wanted to have in the rural areas of the state.”

The design of the stand was developed by the Department of Commerce, with input from the Department of Agriculture. The prototype was built by the Department of Corrections.

It features a wooden floor and roof, as well as wooden awnings and rows of shelves. Each farm stand will be built to those specifications.

“This was an opportunity that we thought could be of benefit to local farmers to sell their wares,” Nance said.

Nance said the first 100 stands should be available by May 1, though the Department of Agriculture is still developing guidelines that stand owners will have to follow.

The Department of Agriculture is also working on the selection process for farmers. Nance expects the details to be finalized within the next month.

The Department of Agriculture will own the stands and perform maintenance on them, but they will be leased to farmers, churches, city groups and co-ops.

Nance said there will be an annual fee, which will most likely be between $200 and $400.

A prototype stand has been set up at the state Farmer’s Market in Columbia.

Nance said the Department of Agriculture was looking for feedback and chose that location because of its high visibility.

“It’s already generated a lot of interest,” Nance said. “The first 100 (stands) will probably go fairly quickly.”

Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said the farm stands will be a good resource for local farmers.

“It’s another outlet for rural farmers,” Willis said. “It’s another place where they can sell produce and other farm goods.”

Willis said farmers should benefit in several ways.

For one, he said having a farm stand along a road or highway will increase sales because of impulse buying, which are the  unplanned purchases people make once they spot a stand on the side of a road.

It should also increase the sales of all different types of food, because shoppers who come looking for tomatoes may also decide on corn or other vegetables, Willis said.

Transportation costs have also been an issue affecting farmers’ profits, Willis said.

With the implementation of these stands, farmers can now set up shop near their farms, instead of having to travel to the state farmer’s market to sell their produce. This should help to keep costs down.

For details about the produce stand initiative, call Larry Boyleston at the Department of Agriculture at (803) 734-2191 or Kara Borie at the Department of Commerce at (803) 737-1998.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416