Sharing Walterboro’s story in D.C. | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | August 4, 2017 5:00 pm
Last Updated: August 2, 2017 at 11:22 am
Walterboro’s success in growing the local food economy was highlighted at the national Local Foods, Local Places summit in Washington, D.C. last month.
Matt Mardell, director of the Colleton Museum and Farmers Market, attended the summit to share Walterboro’s story.
“Interestingly, it was just one year ago I presented at the South Carolina Association of County’s Annual Conference to win the J. Mitchell Graham award,” Mardell pointed out. Mardell was the manager of the Colleton Commercial Kitchen at that time.
This July, he was in the nation’s capital, presenting the story of the Colleton Commercial Kitchen to other Local Foods, Local Places communities and the alphabet soup of federal agencies that provided the grants that enabled the facility “to do such unique, exciting and beneficial projects here.”
Participating federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, United States Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control, Department of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, saw evidence of how their grant monies are serving to improve food security nationwide in underserved communities.
Although the programs underway nationwide varied, Mardell said, “food is the common denominator.”
“We illustrated to them how, since they were here, the kitchen has gone from 5 to 12 users, has helped create over 60 new jobs, Mardell said.
He showed that the kitchen had certified 280 food professionals, rented the facility to the public for more than 40 events, had prepared more than 200,000 meals for after-school and summer feeding programs, had produced 120,000 ounces of bottled sauces and more than 18,000 bakery items.
He explained how the facility’s Art of Rural Community video, spearheaded by former Museum Director Gary Brightwell and the South Carolina Arts Commission, “was quickly driven forward into fruition.”
Mardell said “the Local Foods, Local Places program, although a guidance program, has been highly invaluable in helping us identify short-term and long-term goals and begin to drive them forward. It has all been about people power.”
Being added to Local Food, Local Places and the early work on the federal program, Mardell said, “was one of Gary’s last major undertakings.
“It has allowed us to identify how we get stronger as a place, particularly through food. It makes sense that we look back to our roots, our agricultural heritage and figure out how we get back to the level of prosperity, and more importantly, food security.”
Mardell said attending the Washington event “was a great experience. I met many interesting people from all over the U.S.”
“It was very nerve-wracking opening up a conference like that because you are always wondering if you are appealing to people, are you doing the ‘campus’ justice,” Mardell offered.
“When I set the scene of Colleton County and then described all our success, people were floored. People were really engaged, smiling along, taking notes,” he said.
That enthusiasm for the Walterboro story did not wane. “The whole time I was there, I’d have people grab me and ask questions about the museum/farmers market combination or the commercial kitchen,” Mardell offered. “There were so many questions — my voice has been husky through overuse for the past day or two.”
The summit focused on how investment in the local food economy can help boost economic opportunities for local farmers and businesses in communities across the country.
“Supporting farmers and businesses helps communities’ diversify their economies to create new jobs and economic activity, and revitalize main streets and surrounding areas while also protecting the environment,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
“These are great rewards we are reaping for being such a forward-thinking government, county council and community,” Mardell said.