Apples, asparagus, beans, beets, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots …

The South Carolina Department of Agriculture’s Certified South Carolina Web site lists dozens of fresh produce commodities grown in the state.

It also provides information on more than 800 growers of fruits and vegetables and other agricultural producers, links to 277 restaurants that have bought into the departments’ locally-grown efforts and farmers market location information.

It’s all part of South Carolina’s effort to connect local growers and local consumers, said Martin Eubanks, the department’s marketing director.

“People want to buy locally grown,” Eubanks said. “Oftentimes the challenge they have is identifying it.
We’re trying to help consumers connect the dots to capture as much of that locally grown demand as we can.”

Working under the banners of the department’s Certified South Carolina Grown and Buy South Carolina-Nothing Fresher, Nothing Finer slogans, the department this summer plans a full plate of point-of-purchase, advertising and marketing outreach, Eubanks said.

“They’re designed not to overshadow individual retailers’ local programs, but to enhance them,” he said.

It’s not just South Carolina retailers that have expressed interest in tapping into the state’s locally-grown marketing campaign, Eubanks said. Retailers in states including West Virginia and New York also have expressed interest, he said.

While demand for locally grown South Carolina fresh fruits and vegetables is growing in all channels, foodservice is one of particular note recently, Eubanks said.

In 2008, the department launched its Fresh on the Menu foodservice program with South Carolina restaurants on a trial basis.

Participating restaurants agree to source at least 25% of their fruits and vegetables and other foods from South Carolina growers and producers when they’re in season, Eubanks said.

In exchange, they can use Fresh on the Menu stickers, table tents and other materials in their restaurants.
The program started with about 60 restaurants in the Charleston area, Eubanks said. Since then, it’s grown to 277.

“The response from chefs  has been outstanding,” said Eubanks, citing staples like peaches, tomatoes, other summer vegetables and watermelons and specialty heirloom and organic vegetables as among those locally grown products favored by restaurants.

The allure of something that’s harvested in the morning and served that same night is tremendous, Eubanks said.

The department expects to kick off its Certified South Carolina Grown radio and television ads the first week of June, he said. They will run through the summer.

The department runs billboard and print ads throughout the year, he said.