Locally Grown Food Magic: Feed & Seed’s Role in Greenville’s Food Economy

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Explore the world of local agriculture as we talk to Mary Hipp, Co-Founder and Board Chair of Feed & Seed, about the challenges faced by local farmers and how Feed & Seed serves as a game-changing food innovation hub. Discover the ins and outs of getting farm-fresh, local produce onto your plate, and learn about Feed & Seed’s unique initiatives, from their crop box program to their community outreach efforts. If you love locally grown food, this episode will have you craving a visit to Feed & Seed!

Visit the Feed & Seed Website.


Katy Smith: It’s the time of year when folks are especially thinking about locally grown food. We’re in the midst of strawberry season and soon folks will be excited about tomatoes and berries and peaches and corn and apples, and so much more local deliciousness. I love to think that it’s food magic that gets these gems from a farm into my fridge and belly, but it takes a strong system to make it happen.

I’m Katy Smith with Greater Good Greenville, and today on Simple Civics: Greenville County, I talk with Mary Hipp, Co-Founder and Board Chair of Feed & Seed. She will give us the lay of the land for local agriculture, the challenges farmers face, and how Feed & Seed acts as a food innovation hub for producers and consumers.

I bet that after you listen, you’ll be rushing out to Feed & Seed to support our local farm economy by making a purchase.

Hi Mary. Thanks so much for being with us today.

Mary Hipp: I’m flattered to be here.

Katy Smith: Well, I’m always flattered to be in your company because you do amazing things, like being the Co-Founder of Feed & Seed, so, let’s start with you giving us the lay of the land for local agriculture and what challenges our local farmers face in getting their products to consumers.

Mary Hipp: Well, there are a lot of challenges. First of all, most of our farmers in this region are small because of the topography – rolling green hills. So they don’t have the resources or the infrastructure to get into an institutional market, which is the most steady market in the community. So you have to be GAP, good agricultural practice certified, which requires extra employees, extra equipment, extra packaging everything. So they just bypass it and therefore they’re not getting enough income to expand their production. And unfortunately with the upstate being so popular, it’s just easier to sell your farm. So we are providing that infrastructure. We are providing those employees at our facility.

We’re also buying B grades and seconds, which would otherwise be tilled in or thrown onto a compost pile. So we’re not only taking a cost off the farmers, we are also giving additional income.

Katy Smith: Interesting. I had never really thought about that before. So because of the topography, farmer’s land is smaller perhaps than you might find in another region, and so they can’t do business with a school or a hospital or a large vendor.

Mary Hipp: Not as andividual farm and because they don’t have the certifications.

Katy Smith: Got it.

Mary Hipp: We can aggregate. So we can get sweet potatoes from 10 farms, which would be enough to do a school district or food service like Aramark. For example, we’re doing a sweet potato program right now.

We are processing two tons of sweet potatoes a week, and we’ve got 10 to 14 tons in the line. These are all B grades, which are the ones that are too ugly, too big, or too scratched to go into a conventional market. So we’re buying all these, we’re peeling them, we’re making them into sweet potato, french fries, and flash freezing them.

Those french fries are going into the Clemson Food Service program, into their cafeterias. Those sweet potato skins are being picked up by pork farmers to feed their pigs. So now we have given additional income to the farmer and we’ve removed a cost from the pork farmers from having to buy seed and feed.

Katy Smith: And giving delicious french fries to students at Clemson University.

Mary Hipp: Exactly, local french fries.

Katy Smith: Local French fries.

Mary Hipp: The definition of local is generally 400 miles from your point, but we really focus on 10 counties of the upstate.

Katy Smith: Mary, how does Feed & Seed help with those challenges that local farmers face?

Mary Hipp: Well over 10 years, we have really looked at what the bigger challenges are and tried to find a niche. So taking a cost off the farmer from having to have certain equipment, having to have employees, or having to pay for a certification. We’ve removed all those barriers for the farmers.

Katy Smith: So some people have easy access to grocery stores or the ability to carve out time for a visit to a farmer’s market or a distant farm stand to get delicious foods. But not everyone has that luxury. So how does Feed & Seed help expand the consumer base for these great foods?

Mary Hipp: So expanding the consumer base, we address in several ways. We have a market that highlights local makers and growers, but we also carry conventional makers and growers. It is visually comforting for two different audiences totally. We are SNAP EBT qualified, so that is one reason why we really focus on take and bakes, and grab and goes, and pre-made things.

Cause you can’t buy hot food with your SNAP EBT.

Katy Smith: I didn’t realize that.

Mary Hipp: Yes. That is why we don’t have any indoor seating because then we become a restaurant.

Katy Smith: Oh.

Mary Hipp: And you can’t use your SNAP EBT in a restaurant.

Katy Smith: Got it.

Mary Hipp: And so the way our system works is you can come in and use your American Express card and someone else can come in and use their SNAP EB T card, and nobody will know the difference.

No one will know the difference. And, you know, we’ve only been open a year. As we get more engaged in the community, we’re finding out more things that they’re looking for, that they want. But we’re also not providing Coke. We’re not providing ding dongs. We’re really pushing some more healthier options.

Are we gonna get everybody? No. But we are definitely getting a steady flow from 29611. Then we do food share, which is a state run program. Every other week. It’s 15 whole fruits and vegetables. You can pay cash $20 or $5 SNAP EBT, and we do that in Pickens, Oconee, and Anderson county. Then we also have our crop box, which is similar to a CSA, community supported agriculture.

The difference with us though, is that we’re working with 10 to 15 farmers so you don’t end up with the same vegetable for a week. You don’t end up with 10 weeks of beets. So we change it out and we also always add one or two locally made value added items. It could be tea and honey, it could be rice, bakery, bread, and folks cheese.

So that way it exposes the community to what is here and what is from here and where it is available.

Katy Smith: I have to confess, I feel like I’m a Feed & Seed super shopper and I did not know about the crop box giving you such variety of not only produce, but producers of the produce to get it to support so many farmers all at once with that one box.

Mary Hipp: With that one box, they run between 9 and 10 weeks. We’re halfway through our spring right now. We have a small box, and then we also have a large box.

Katy Smith: Wow. I would love for listeners to know, if you’ve never been to Feed & Seed, I cannot convey the glory of going into that store. When you go in, you’re gonna see beautiful produce available to you. You’re gonna see beautiful products that are available, like the honey that Mary mentioned, or awesome peanut butter.

Or great laundry supplies. And then you’ll see a freezer with fabulous take and bakes as she discussed. Lasagnas or Italian dishes or, soups and stews or pies, and then fresh items that you can just grab and go for lunchtime, like a pimento cheese sandwich. And a bakery? Like who needs ding dongs and Twinkies when you have amazing baked goods, fresh made every day.

Mary Hipp: By Josh Robinson every morning.

Katy Smith: Oh my gosh. I can’t emphasize enough that people need to go and support it. Well, what have you heard from the farmers that you work with and about their experience now that Feed & Seed is here?

Mary Hipp: So we’re just now starting to get a lot of feedback because again, it’s been one year, so we’re just now entering to our second year of strawberries. And we are getting a lot of good feedback. Especially the sweet potato farmers. All of that would’ve been tilted into the fields. And I, you know, that’s 10,000 pounds.

So even if she only gets a dollar a pound, which she’s getting more than that, that’s $10,000. You can do a lot with that on a farm. Um, and then the smaller farmers are working with us with crop planning. Everybody was growing a particular type of radish and we’ve now talked to other farmers into growing a different variety of radishes and a different variety of okra. One of the challenges is the market gets flooded and everybody’s growing the same variety. So rather than have everybody grow a small batch of the same variety, get four farmers to grow four different varieties and they can double it and then whatever they don’t sell on the market, farmer’s market or retail, whatever it is.

We’ll buy it, because we can make it into an added value product.

Katy Smith: That’s fabulous.

Mary Hipp: It’s, it’s been really neat to start getting that feedback from them.

Katy Smith: Mary, it sounds like you are really just a hub for local food and local producers.

Mary Hipp: We are a hub, but we’re a food innovate hub. Over the last 10 years, we really looked at all angles. Not only do we have the market and cafe, we have a community room that people can use to teach classes, nutrition, cooking, serve safe. We’ve had health fairs in there. We have board meetings in there.

And then we have the warehouse, which has a wash station. Um, it has a processing facility where we flash freeze, freeze dry, and dehydrate, and we’ve got the storage. And both of these are Good Manufacturing Practice Certified and Good Agricultural Practice Plus Certified. So we’re the only facility like this with these certifications under one roof.

There are facilities, but they’re all at different places. The washing pack would be one place, processing would be another place. Then you add in trucking and then you add in refrigeration, and so we can get it from the field into the the market, be it wholesale, be it retail, be it processing in less than 24 hours.

Katy Smith: It just makes me so happy as a selfish person who gets to eat the yummy food. But I mean, Mary, I’ve watched you for 10 years working on this and you really had the vision of, we have great food out there. We have farmers that are working hard, but having trouble making the bottom line work because of the cost in getting all these certifications and facilities, and you knew if you brought it all together, you make the process easier for everybody and you did it.

Mary Hipp: We’ve always said, “we have end users,” be it wholesale, retail institution, doesn’t matter. We have end users and we have got farmers and we have very, very talented farmers. But the infrastructure was broken or non-existent and our goal is to create that infrastructure and I think we’re on the way.

Katy Smith: Oh my gosh, Mary, I feel like Feed & Seed is such a great representation of what I believe in the nonprofit sector. Which is that there’s the freedom to be truly innovative and help change the way we do things and do it in partnership with the private sector and with government and philanthropy, but it takes money to make this happen.

Mary Hipp: It does take money, but the, again, as you mentioned it, you do get to be innovative, but you have to be patient. It’s turning a battleship. As I’ve mentioned, this has taken 10 years. We’ve had four different iterations, but just through sheer perseverance and knowing that this facility was needed. And I had a lot of supporters who came to me with just the idea.

We didn’t even have blueprints. So being in the agricultural sector, you’re dealing with the government, you’re dealing with private, you’re dealing with public, but it does not come cheap. And you know, we’re, we’re gonna need support for a couple more years.

Katy Smith: Well, I’ll remind everyone that Feed & Seed is a 501(c)(3) to which you can make a tax deductible donation and you can check out their website at…

Mary Hipp: www.feedandseedsc.com.

Katy Smith: I mean, Mary, hopefully we’ve made everyone as excited as I am to come and visit and get great strawberries or a delicious pie. How do people find you?

Mary Hipp: So we are located in the Judson Mill Project. 701 Easley Bridge Road, Unit 6010. It is an 800,000 square foot facility that is being renovated on 34 acres, and we’ve got 18,000 square feet of heaven corner, which includes 5,000 square feet of cooler space.

Katy Smith: I always find if you’re headed out of town on 123 Old Easley Bridge Road, you kind of pass the mill and you turn left on Second Avenue where you see the YMCA sign.

Mary Hipp: Exactly.

Katy Smith: Yep. And then take a left into the parking lot. And there you’ll see food magic.

Mary Hipp: You can’t miss it.

Katy Smith: Well, Mary, thank you so much for all that you have done for food and for the people who eat it.

And I really appreciate you taking the time for being here today.

Mary Hipp: It was great seeing you again, Katy, and I appreciate the support.

Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of Podcast Studio X.

Image via Feed & Seed.

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