Food & Drink

Coming to terms with food terms

Lauren Harper, from the City of Columbia Mayor’s Office, talks about the newly formed Food Policy Council at the South Carolina Food Access Summit on Oct. 2.
Lauren Harper, from the City of Columbia Mayor’s Office, talks about the newly formed Food Policy Council at the South Carolina Food Access Summit on Oct. 2.

Let’s take a pop quiz!

How many of these food terms do you recognize or understand?

▪ Food systems

▪ Sustainability

▪ Food desert

▪ Food hub

▪ Food policy council/group/committee

Don’t worry, it can get confusing. But why should you care? Because a growing number of groups seek to influence urban planning and growth as it pertains to food production and access in South Carolina.

On Monday, representatives from local and state government (DSS, DHEC, SC Dept of Agriculture, etc) and food organizations (FoodShare, Lowcountry Local First, GrowCarolina, Midlands Food Alliance, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association), farmers and members of the general public came together at the 2017 Food Access Summit in Columbia to exchange ideas and find common goals for creating more sustainable and equitable food systems within the state.

Members from the North Carolina-based Community Food Strategies presented their organization’s efforts to grow a network of local food councils that could influence policies pertaining to sustainable and equitable growth in neighborhood communities.

Getting involved in planning and creating food systems in South Carolina is an easy thing to do – just attend an event or public meeting. Listen, take notes, ask questions, and get involved.

The city of Columbia recently formed a Food Policy Committee that meets the second Wednesday of the month (next meeting is Oct. 11). The meetings are open to the public and are held at 5:30 p.m. in the board room on the third floor of Richland Library’s Main location on Assembly Street.

Back to those terms – so you’ll understand what everyone is saying:


This is really a two-parter.

Part one is the globalized, mass-market conventional food system where food is grown and shipped across a wide area. The conventional food system model offers a greater food variety and lower food cost but can put the overall environmental and community health systems at risk. The use of chemicals in fertilizers to grow food, in preservatives to prolong the appearance of freshness of food during transport, and in processed foods impact the health of the consumer.

Part two is the local food system – often referred to as farm-to-table – where food is grown and consumed locally. Crops are seasonal, with certain varieties of fruits and vegetables available for only during a few months or weeks in a year. Production tends to be on a smaller scale, using less mechanized forms of planting and harvesting, and the cost to the consumer is slightly higher. Relationships between growers, producers and consumers are important in the local food system, as they tend to belong to the same community.

Examples of a local food system may include community supported agriculture (CSAs let you buy shares or boxes directly from a farm), farmers markets, and farm-to-institution programs (food directly from farms to schools, hospitals and/or prisons). DHEC in South Carolina operates a Farm to Institution program – and October is National Farm to School Month. Check out some ideas that can be incorporated in your school at


To be sustainable means not harming the environment or depleting natural resources to maintain a long-term ecological balance. Sustainable agriculture considers the best farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities and animal welfare. Sustainable communities are planned to consider future growth and health of and equity – fairness – to all members of the community.

Columbia’s Sustainable Midlands,, is active in local food and healthy watershed initiatives.


A food desert is loosely defined as an area within a community where fresh foods, vegetables and fruit are not easily obtained, usually because a grocery store or farmers market is not within a reasonable commuting distance.

The USDA defines a food desert as an area where at least one-third or 500 people within a census tract’s population in an urban area are living 1 mile away (10 miles in rural areas) from a large grocery store or supermarket. If factors of lower income and mobility (transportation) are taken into account, the distance is cut to a half mile for people with no access to a vehicle in an urban area – and the number of food deserts increases.

Some local groups helping combat food desert issues include FoodShare Columbia, Harvest Hope Food Bank, and the South Carolina Benefits Center (by increasing participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) among low-income seniors, Wholesome Wave is a national organization that promotes healthy eating by doubling SNAP benefits and empowering doctors to write prescriptions for fruits and vegetables. According to the website, Hub City Farmers Market in Spartanburg and Lowcountry Street Grocery in Charleston are members of the Wholesome Wave network.


A food hub is a centrally located facility that helps small farming operations by managing the aggregation, storage, packaging, distribution, marketing and – sometimes – pricing of locally and regionally produced food products. Transportation and storage are huge factors when getting products to market and food hubs help fill in the gap by offering pick up services from farm to hub and then cold storage spaces before selling to consumers or wholesalers.

GrowFood Carolina in Charleston and Greenville’s Feed & Seed are examples of regional food hubs. Feasibility studies are underway to determine whether the Midlands should form a food hub and if so, where should it be located.


A group usually consisting of a cross-section of community members – farmers, consumers, health care professionals, scholars, planners and government representatives – who come together to help plan and ensure the growth of local, sustainable food systems and communities.

Groups can seek to influence government policies on agriculture, urban planning, growth and zoning, education and health issues, and distribution of goods and services.