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      Agriculture programs help farmers combat high fuel prices

      When farmer Scott Thompson lost his mother to cancer in January, he decided to make a change. "I wanted to start living better, myself along with my family," he says, "and why not bring my community along with me if I can?"

      A South Carolina Department of Agriculture grant is helping him do that.

      The Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA) is letting those not involved in agriculture buy stock in a farm.

      "It's pretty much a co-op," says Wanda Parker. She helps run Thompson's farm. "People can buy small, medium, or large shares."

      The program starts May 1st and is set up for 20 weeks. When a consumer buys a share, a specific amount of fresh produce will be sent to a location convenient to them.

      "It's allowing farmers to work together for locally grown instead of competing against one another," says Thompson. "I want to get the community to support locally grown, know their farmer and come and see where their food is grown."

      Consumers must buy the entire 20 week package up front. A $15 a week package would cost families $300. A fair exchange Thompson says, "You know you're going to spend that money on vegetables, so why not get it from someone you know personally?"

      The up-front money will also help farmers planting next seasons crops. "It just starts all over again for us. With high gas prices, everything's going up." He says any help they can get is crucial.

      "We can pick it and sell it in the same day," says Kristen Bellamy.

      Her parents, Lyles and Wanda, run the family farm business, and this year their hopes are running high. With increasing gas prices, costs across the board have jumped.

      The Bellamy's expect an increase in sales with people searching for ways to cut back. "The produce grown here, you'll be able to get at a cheaper price than at the grocery store," says Kristen.

      She says they're not immune to higher gas prices, but gas prices don't affect them as much.

      Conway restaurant owner, Darrel Smith, says he's strong supporter of locally grown. "It's a superior product in my opinion," he says "and it grows our economy, which is good all around."

      His restaurant, The Rivertown Bistro, is a part of the Fresh on the Menu program. Another way for the South Carolina Department of Agriculture to introduce people to local farm products. Local chef's agree to prepare a menu that includes at least 25 percent locally grown. "It gets farmers excited," says Smith. "Not only to sell their product locally, but they can come eat it and let people know a restaurant is selling their produce."

      For Thompson, it's about getting everyone involved. "People who join will get an email letting them know what vegetables are included that week, and they can let us know if they have a suggestion."

      What do you think about the CSA program?