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OPINION: Food Is Safe, and Now Is the Time to Buy It Local by Hugh Weathers, SC Commissioner of Agri

Columbia, SC - Many of us continue to hunker down in our homes following orders to stop the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, South Carolina farmers are out in their fields planting summer crops and picking spring ones like strawberries and blueberries. Some are getting ready to pick peaches next month, while others are busy every day with livestock or poultry.

The US Department of Homeland Security deemed food and agriculture “essential industries” during this unprecedented crisis. Thanks to farmers and agribusinesses, the food supply remains plentiful and the supply chain is stable.

We should support their hard work in the choices we make in buying our food.

First, know that fresh produce is safe. There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted via food, but we should all be following basic precautions like washing our hands after grocery shopping, washing produce before eating it, and disposing of packaging handled by others during the buying process.

Concerns about the coronavirus shouldn’t dissuade you from eating fresh, locally grown food. And now more than ever, I urge consumers to try to make the effort to buy local. When you buy food from South Carolina farmers, you keep more money in the local economy, supporting your neighbors during this crisis – and when we come out of it.

I realize shopping isn’t exactly a leisure activity these days, but we’ve worked to make it easy to recognize the Certified South Carolina logo and buy accordingly.

South Carolina strawberries are in season now, and peaches will hit stores in May – and items like lettuce and mushrooms grown by South Carolina farmers are reliably available year-round. You can also find South Carolina-produced dairy, beef, poultry, and pork products. Want to grow more of your food at home? There’s even organic compost offered by some enterprising farmers.

Many farms are specialized and sell primarily to restaurants – and we all know the hardships restaurants are facing to fight the spread of COVID-19. During the outbreak, many of these smaller farms, as well as their wholesaler partners, have begun selling directly to consumers, whether by delivering produce boxes or selling from their farms or shipping docks. We’re keeping a list of these direct-to-consumer options at agriculture.sc.gov/coronavirus/local.

When we are past this crisis and our great South Carolina restaurants are bustling again, let’s support our economy and our farmers by visiting Fresh on the Menu restaurants that buy from South Carolina farmers. Have a great dining experience while supporting our local farm economy. Learn more about this partnership at freshonthemenu.com.

Don’t overlook the farmers markets that are open. A farmers market is no different from a grocery store: It’s a place to buy food. Particularly during the spring, summer and fall, they are a venue for small farms to sell food directly to the public, lowering the barrier for people to buy fresh local products.

While many farmers markets are normally crowded events and “meeting places,” many are now enforcing rules about social distancing and requiring staff to wear gloves and masks. The South Carolina Department of Agriculture has also issued guidelines to help farmers markets operate safely. Our three State Farmers Markets (in Florence, West Columbia, and Greenville) remain open, and seasonal markets around the state will be opening in the coming weeks.

The industry that has always fed us all is an impressive one. It’s critical that we maintain the food supply chains and support local farmers, not just to keep ourselves fed in the short term, but to make sure we still have local farmers farming when this is over. You are a vital part in that.

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