Governor McMaster’s COVID-19 advisory team, AccelerateSC, recently released its recommendations for how to spend the $8.89 billion allocated to South Carolina by the American Rescue Plan Act. Their report, the result of months of meetings, public testimony, and research, sought to give funds to “investment in long-term capital,” according to AccelerateSC’s Chairman James Burns.
Recommendation 17 in the plan allocates $50 million to agribusiness, South Carolina’s number one industry, providing 246,957 jobs and $46.2 billion in annual economic impact. A $3 million portion of that funding is earmarked to renew Farmers to Food Banks, an innovative program that purchases products from South Carolina farmers and donates them to local food banks.
This program is particularly valuable right now, as farmers are still reeling from supply chain disruptions and the shutdown of typical large-scale customers (like restaurants and schools) and South Carolina’s unemployment still exceeds pre-pandemic levels.
SC Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers explained,“Farmers to Food Banks solves two problems with one charitable effort: helping the needy while supporting the South Carolina farmers who work hard to feed us all.”
South Carolina’s Farmers to Food Banks program was based on the national Farmers to Families Food Box program, which did not select many South Carolina distributors to participate. The SC Department of Agriculture partnered with nonprofit SC Advocates for Agriculture to launch a SC-specific program in May 2020 that purchased products from local farmers and gave them to local food banks.
This program was particularly notable because it was entirely funded by charitable donations from individuals and corporations, a much-needed private/public partnership to help those in need across our state.
During three rounds of food distribution between the summer and fall of 2020, Farmers to Food Banks purchased food from 33 South Carolina farms and supported 9 food hubs and distributors. By the end, the program gave out 335,201 pounds of fresh South Carolina-grown fruits and vegetables in 20,959 free food boxes to South Carolina families.
And that was with only half a million dollars in funding.
With an additional $3 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan to spend by 2024, Farmers to Food Banks could dramatically expand operations to support more South Carolina farms and feed families in need: exactly the kind of homegrown, cost-effective public/private partnership that will steward these one-time federal dollars to do the greatest good for the citizens and economy of our state.