- Associated Press - Sunday, March 5, 2017

FLORENCE, S.C. (AP) - The Pee Dee Food Hub is growing.

Executive director Jody Martin is working to expand the reach of the Carolina Farm Share aspect of the Marion-based hub as the spring share is rapidly approaching. The underlying concept is simple: from April to July, fresh fruits and vegetables are dropped off every other week at a place of business, church or school. Employees of the designated location - or folks who simply live or work nearby - buy memberships based upon how much food they want. There are small, medium and large shares, and participants can expect anything from cucumbers and kale to strawberries, carrots, lettuce, green onions or zucchini. Each delivery breaks down to $25, $35 or $45 according to preferred size.

Martin is on a mission to explain the benefits of the program, and right at the top of the list is the fact that folks are supporting local agriculture.

“There’s a little over 20 farms in eight or nine counties and we’re expanding with them and in the process of bringing in more farmers as we grow,” he said.

He and Clemson University extension agent Tony Melton have been traveling around meeting with farmers to discuss how they can contribute and reap financial rewards.

“We need more product and more farmers,” Martin said. “We have hydroponics, some organics, some GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified. The farmers are all safe, it’s a set product and we work with them hand in hand. All these farms that supply us product are within a 50- to 75- to 100-mile radius so what they’re providing is typically picked one day and delivered the next.”

Produce from each farm is designated with its source so folks can know exactly where their blueberries or green beans are coming from, as the hub looks to help farmers with branding efforts.

“Our inventory is out in the farmer’s fields,” Martin said. “It’s like having a garden without having to get your hands dirty.”

With the goal of reaching as many people as possible, Martin is working to establish locations known to many and easily accessible. Churches such as Ebenezer Baptist, Central United Methodist and Lamb’s Chapel Christian Center have signed up and another public site is Fitness Forum on East Elm Street.

“We’ve got a couple of other churches looking and we’ve talked to several schools as well,” he said.

Associate pastor J. Derrick Cattenhead at Central United Methodist Church said his congregation became aware of the Pee Dee Food Hub through member Marvin Owen, president of ACS Technologies, one of the businesses that take part in the Carolina Farm Share.

“We thought it would be a wonderful opportunity being that we were downtown and there’s several restaurants that participate,” Cattenhead said.

He and Carla Stout visited ACS and saw how it worked.

“And we were very impressed and we became more engaged and had an in-depth conversation,” he said. “We started last fall and it has been a huge success.”

The church views itself not just as a distribution site.

“It is a ministry. We invite them in and hold it in the commons area,” Cattenhead said. “We believe in loving our neighbors and this is another opportunity to serve the grace of God.”

He’s also a big fan of supporting local farmers and getting a healthy, sustainable benefit.

“It’s fresh produce and you can’t beat that - obviously the prices are less than what you find in the grocery store,” he said. “It’s a win-win.”

Cattenhead loves dealing with folks who aren’t members of the church.

“We’re showing the church is an inviting place where people can come and fellowship,” he said. “It’s not just a bag of groceries, but conversations take place. We chose the commons area on purpose as it’s the first entry into the church so we intentionally put it there. Sign-up has been going extremely well.”

He also praises the church’s leadership in getting the initiative off the ground.

“We are so blessed to just have the right people, the right passion and the right reasons for doing this,” he said.

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Information from: Morning News, https://www.scnow.com


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