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Farming feeds rural towns

It's usually a city's downtown — not the acres of crops and pastures a few miles out — that captures the attention of municipal officials. Although matters involving agricultural land aren't regularly on the city council agenda, South Carolina farms have a lot to contribute to the economic health of cities and towns.

SC Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers
Hugh Weathers, South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture

"When farms across our rural areas of the state thrive and are prosperous, obviously it has an impact on local economies because of the turnover of dollars generated in a farming economy," said Hugh Weathers, South Carolina's commissioner of agriculture and a partner in his family's 80-year-old dairy business and row crop farm. Weathers will be the luncheon speaker at the Municipal Association's Hometown Legislative Action Day, Tuesday, February 6, 2018.

Weathers emphasized that local farms support local businesses by relying on them for petroleum, parts, supplies and other resources. And farms and food processors are a natural business fit for rural communities, which aren't as likely to land automobile, tire and airplane manufacturers.

Local farms can also help cities and towns identify and market their uniqueness. In short, residents and visitors, alike, love dining in restaurants that draw their produce, meats and eggs from nearby farms.

"I think that resonates with shoppers from nearby, and people might drive to that restaurant just to be a part of that," said Weathers, pointing to a restaurant in the Town of Monetta as an example of one that serves food sourced from local farms.

"When a small town or rural area has sort of a local food emphasis, I think it benefits that town. It gives it a sense of having a little more of a cultural scene."

That's part of a town's branding appeal, he said.

"We've all got great restaurants, but if they go a step further and say, 'We work with our local farmers so that what we sell you is as fresh as can be,' this helps a rural area," he said. "People love farmers, always have, and I think always will, so these companies, restaurants and what not, who tie themselves to local farms as much as they can, I think everybody benefits, including the image of the town."

Other topics at the 2018 HLAD will include potential changes to the state retirement system, the opioid crisis, the status of the Local Government Fund, and a panel discussion about next steps for the gas tax and infrastructure improvements. Attendees will also take a trip to the S.C. State House to meet with their local legislative delegation.

On December 6, the Association will mail registration information about the meeting and the Municipal Elected Officials Institute and Advanced Institute. The information will also be available online. The preregistration deadline is January 23.

January 10 is the deadline for making hotel reservations at the Columbia Marriott. Make hotel reservations by calling 1.800.593.6465 or 803.771.7000 and asking for the Municipal Association of SC HLAD rate of $153 plus taxes.