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Local growers signing up to sell produce through regional food hub

Article was added on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

LOCAL FARMERS AND GROWERSin Santee Electric Cooperative's service area are signing up to sell produce through the Pee Dee Agriporium Food Hub on Hwy. 501 near Marion, set to open sometime next year.

Julie Norman, executive director of the Marion County Economic Development Commission, says the Agriporium will significantly boost the Pee Dee economy. "I truly believe this is going to be an economic driver for not just this county but for the entire region," she says.

Not a farmers market, a food hub is a facility for farmers to drop off produce for cleaning, packaging and delivery to restaurants and stores. Among 227 food hubs nationwide, the Pee Dee Agriporium Food Hub is predicted to bring in at least $3 million by year five. The Food Hub will provide farmers and growers- even hobby gardeners-a new way to sell their produce. The state's only other food hub is in Charleston, she notes.

Get fresh, get local

The facility's primary market will be Grand Strand restaurants, which more than ever crave fresh, local produce to satisfy demanding diners.

"Right now we spend $11 billion in this state on food but only 10 percent of that stays in the state," Norman says. "The tomatoes that we eat on the Grand Strand are all coming from California-they ripen on the truck. So we want to put some of that money in the pockets of producers, growers and farmers in the Pee Dee region who will, in all likelihood, head right back down to the Grand Strand and spend some of that money in hotels and restaurants, on entertainment and so forth.

The restaurants along the Grand Strand know that, so they're eager to participate in the Food Hub and buy fresh, local produce for our farmers in the Pee Dee region."

Technology will play a part, with restaurants ordering produce online and growers responding to demand, she says. The Agriporium will also include a retail store, a small business assistance center and an FDA-grade commercial kitchen incubator.

A friend to farmers

Jody Martin has been hired as director of the Pee Dee Agriporium Food Hub. Martin has more than 35 years of agricultural and agribusiness experience. He is the co-founder and chairman of the S.C. AgriBiz and Farm Expo Advisory Council, which has a close relationship with farmers in the region.

Martin says he is excited to help establish the state's second food hub. "My years working with farmers will help establish long-lasting working relationships with our Food Hub farmers, restaurants and grocery stores," he says.

The Pee Dee Agriporium Food Hub offers assistance to growers preparing to supply the Food Hub, including those who need work and are willing to help with planting. Farmers and potential growers of ANY size can call (843) 423-8235 with questions.

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