Lowcountry farmers getting boost from Johns Island facility

Published: Mar. 25, 2015 at 11:01 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 25, 2015 at 11:02 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Lowcountry farmers are getting a big boost from a new facility built on Johns Island.

The Crop Stop kitchen will allow farmers to prepare, process, and preserve their crops at a low cost.

This will make it easier for them to sell to local restaurants and schools.

"There is food being grown all over these islands and yet there's no kitchen to make anything in," said Dale Snyder, farm manager at SweetGrass Garden.

Snyder says there are a lot of farmers in the area who want to sell their produce to schools and businesses. To do so, farmers need access to a commercial grade, USDA approved kitchen, that meet health standards. Many smaller, Lowcountry farmers haven't had access to a kitchen like this, until now.

SweetGrass Garden will manage the first Crop Stop in the state, on Johns Island.

The trailer, gutted and re-built by Clemson architecture students, is now a state of the art kitchen.

David Pastre, professor at Clemson, says this is a farm to school initiative. Clemson partnered with College of Charleston and received grant money from Boeing. The project has been over a year in the making.

In total, the Crop Stop cost $60,000, half of that cost went to the equipment inside. That includes an oven, range, walk in cooler and massive freezer.

The freezer is able to flash freeze produce, allowing it to hold hold in 80 percent of the nutrients. The produce can be preserved for up to eight months.

"It allows them to maximize the use of the food that they grow, a lot of it would be thrown away," said Snyder.

June and July are the peak seasons for produce in the Lowcountry and many farmer are left with a lot of crop and not a lot of ways to save it. This flash freeze process will save more of it.

Farmers will be charged six to seven dollars an hour to use the kitchen, by appointment. That money will go directly back to kitchen upkeep.

"It's very, very affordable for almost any farmer," said Snyder.

The Johns Island Crop Stop will have about 30 Co-op members, all local farmers who will be trained for free how to use the equipment.

It'll be open for business in April. Clemson experts predict the farmers can double their income over the next three to five years.

The Crop Stop serves as a research tool. Clemson architecture students are already starting work on another Crop Stop. This one, in Greenville.

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