After years of research and planning, ground was finally broken in mid-June for the new State Farmers Market on Pineview Road in Columbia, S.C.

Several hundred people attended the ground-breaking ceremony, including farmers, market vendors, public officials, representatives of agricultural-related organizations and consumers.

“Breaking ground for a new state farmers market has been a long time coming. But we are here not only to celebrate the breaking of ground for a new market, we are also here to celebrate the past, present, and future of the State Farmers Market,” noted Hugh Weathers, secretary of agriculture and industry in South Carolina.

The Commissioner stressed that the effort to build a state farmers market started long before he began his first term in office. “I just happen to be the one in office when it all came to pass. But, I believe that building this new market is a good thing for all of South Carolina, and I am happy to be a part of it all,” Weathers concluded.

South Carolina Congressman Billy Witherspoon, who is chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee said, “The State Farmers Market at Columbia will be a centerpiece of agriculture in our state. I am proud to be a part of this endeavor.”

The South Carolina Department of Agriculture will oversee and manage the new market in partnerships with the University of South Carolina which will buy the current market property at the appraised value, Richland County which purchased the land for the new site, and the major wholesalers from the Bluff Road site who are investing in their own facilities at the new site.

The state of South Carolina and Richland County will invest $40-50 million for construction and land for the new State Farmers Market. Adding the additional cost to vendors for their operations at the new site is expected to bring the total investment to the new facility to $60 million. Columbia is in Richland County, which has committed over $10 million dollars to the development of the new farmers market.

The old South Carolina Farmers Market was located on Bluff Street, the first market was on Assembly street, both in Columbia. A number of businesses at the Bluff Street site were instrumental in developing the new site.

The new market will be more user-friendly, safer, and more attractive for consumers. Consumers will have easy access to fresh, quality produce inspected by the Fruit and Vegetable Inspection Service located directly on the new market. Because of their new state-of-the-art facilities, vendors will be able to comply with HAACP regulations, a system designed to prevent hazards that could cause food-borne illness.

Produce sold at the new Farmers Market can be readily tested for pesticide residue in the onsite South Carolina Department of Agriculture food safety laboratory. This facility will enhance and speed the safety and protection process for produce sold at the new market.

The market will include a retail area with a family-friendly focus, a restaurant focusing on South Carolina products, and picnic areas.

The new facility will have spaces to locate a meat market or sell other non-produce goods. Vendors will be able to offer fresh items, like those on the outside aisles of the supermarket, such as meat, fish, cheeses, coffee, and spices and organically grown products.

Commissioner Weathers says the new market is expected to open in early 2008. In the meantime, the market on Bluff Road is still open for business and will remain open until the new market opens.

e-mail: rroberson@farmpress.com