Charleston Seeks New Fix for Unsold Farmer’s Market Food | South Carolina News

By EMMA WHALEN, The Post and Courier

CHARLESTON, SC (AP) — Vendors at Charleston city-run farmers’ markets could donate unsold food and produce to a nonprofit that distributes it to those in need.

But after markets returned after a COVID-19 hiatus, the organization lost too much manpower, both volunteers and staff, to continue providing the service.

City leaders are trying to find new options to prevent thousands of pounds of food from Marion Square and West Ashley markets from going to waste.

“Just in 2019, I think the amount of food collected was between 4 (one thousand) and 6,000 pounds in Marion Square alone,” said Harrison Chapman, manager of the Charleston Farmers’ Market. “It has a huge impact.”

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During the ten years that Chapman served in his role, the collection service was available to sellers. A group of about ten to fifteen volunteers spread over the two markets distributed crates about 30 to 45 minutes before closing. Any produce that was still in good condition but too old to make it to the next week’s market would be donated.

It was then distributed to nursing homes, the Lowcountry Food Bank, and other similar organizations.

Chapman said he was in talks with the former provider as well as other nonprofits to find ways to provide the collection service, but so far he has not been in able to find a group with sufficient capacity.

Charleston sustainability director Katie McKain is working on another solution. In April, his office applied for a grant to pay the city to set up a composting service at farmers’ markets. The city will know by the end of July if the funding is approved.

“It relieves the pressure on vendors to bring home their leftover food if they don’t have a way to reuse it,” she said. “When food is put in a landfill, it gets trapped and without air to help it break down naturally, it creates methane gas.”

McKain said she was still determining whether the program would work best with a series of bins that anyone can use on site or with smaller bins provided to each vendor.

More open collection points should probably be accompanied by paid staff to inform the public about which items can be properly disposed of in bins, she said.

If granted funding, the city would set up the collection service by the fall, she said.

The city is currently running a pilot composting program for residents. Those who participate complete an online composting course and, once approved, receive an access code for two bins set up at local parks. McKain hopes the program will receive permanent funding in next year’s budget.

In the meantime, Chapman has an open call for volunteers and nonprofits interested in helping the market. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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James V. Payne