The Lowcountry’s lush climate makes for prime grounds for farmers. A drive out to Johns Island, Berkeley County or north toward Myrtle Beach offers glimpses of fertile farmland bursting with produce.

But as those cultivating the land begin to age, many in the state have wondered aloud who will have the knowhow to take over the tracts of farmland that have fed South Carolina for generations.

“The average age of a South Carolina farmer today is 59 years old and only 6 percent of farmers are under the age of 35. Creating the next generation of farmers is critical for a healthy local food system,” says Jamee Haley, Executive Director at Lowcountry Local First.

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In partnership with the College of Charleston’s School of Professional Studies, Haley’s organization created the Growing New Farmers Program to train the next generation of food system leaders.

Instructor Brian Wheat with students.

This program provides six months of hands-on training at Middleton Place USDA Certified Organic Farm, coupled with classroom instruction and an optional apprenticeship. Topics covered have included seed starting, post-harvest handling and business planning, among other topics.

Participants receive at least 250 hours of training (500 or more with the apprenticeship) and receive a Certificate in Sustainable Agriculture and Continuing Education Units from the School of Professional Studies’ Job Bridge Program. The current class started on April 3 and will run until September 21.

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“When I came into this program, I really didn’t know what I was going to do. Now I know that I want to be a farmer and I am ready to take the next steps required to become one,” says Emery Thomas, a 2016 graduate.

Past participants have gone on to work with farms like Spade and Clover Gardens, Compost in My Shoe, and Rooting Down Farms and non-profit organizations like the Green Heart Project.

To learn more about the program, visit the School of Professional Studies’ website. 

Photos by Reese Moore