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Hamilton Rhinehart, from Wagener, lays down some weed killer to help corn sprouting west of Wagener Wednesday afternoon, on the property of Ronnie Cook, his maternal grandfather.

The No. 1 item thrown away in South Carolina is food. That’s correct. Estimates are that each of us throws away about 20 pounds of food per month – an estimated 240 pounds a year.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, S.C. Department of Commerce and S.C. Department of Agriculture are partners in a campaign to reduce the waste.

Don’t Waste Food S.C. is aimed at educating and empowering individuals, businesses and communities to take action by preventing, composting or donating surplus food. The campaign is working toward a goal of reducing food waste in the state by 50% by 2030.

The partners work together to connect food surpluses to those in need, enhance infrastructure for composting and educate consumers, communities and businesses about what they can do to join the initiative.

Efforts to combat food waste have taken on a new dimension during the coronavirus emergency.

As schools, restaurants and other businesses and institutions closed earlier this year in an attempt to curb the pandemic, farmers scrambled to find markets for their products. And with unemployment soaring, many South Carolinians have had to seek food assistance.

Thus finding a way to get food from the farm into the hands of those needing it is as logical as necessary.

Enter South Carolina Advocates for Agriculture, a nonprofit created in 2005 to help promote agriculture in the Palmetto State. The organization is buying food from South Carolina farmers and distributing it to food banks.

Certified South Carolina and South Carolina Advocates for Agriculture are partnering on Farmers to Food Banks. They aim to raise $500,000, with several donors already having made commitments.

“Farmers to Food Banks solves two problems with one charitable effort: helping the needy while supporting the South Carolina farmers who work hard to feed us all,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers, who serves as an adviser to Advocates for Agriculture. “People want to lend a hand during these difficult times, and this is one simple way they can do so.”

The South Carolina program complements the federal Farmers to Families Food Box program, a COVID-19 response effort to use tax dollars to buy and distribute commodities. With a quick launch and brief fundraising period, South Carolina’s Farmers to Food Banks program aims to rapidly address local needs by buying food and distributing it to Feeding America food banks, potentially filling gaps in the federal effort. The program will accept applications from distributors, 15 of which have formally expressed their interest already.

Farmers to Food Banks is not S.C. Advocates for Agriculture’s first relief effort. Previous partnerships include the 2015 flood relief effort Plant It Forward SC and fundraising campaigns to provide scholarships for the South Carolina Commissioner’s School for Agriculture.

Helping our farmers while getting food to those in need stands to be another success. Those wishing to donate to or participate in Farmers to Food Banks can contact Cristina Key at ckey@scda.sc.gov or 803-734-2190 for more information.

— The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg