Extension workshop helps farmers connect with chefs

Grand Strand area farmers are good at growing things and many Grand Strand restaurants want what local farmers are growing.

But sometimes, there's a disconnect between the growers and the chefs. Farmers often don't know how to market their products directly to restaurants.

So the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service and the state Department of Agriculture hosted a South Carolina Market Ready training workshop Thursday to give farmers information about how to build relationships with restaurants, wholesalers and food service buyers.

Workshop organizers say the information they provide is based on interviews they've done with executive chefs and grocers around the state.

"To better understand what it is that they need from the producers, so that they can develop these business relationships to deliver that local product to them," said Clemson associate professor Dave Lamie.

Farmer Daryl Watts from Conway was among those attending Thursday's workshop. He's interested in making connections with local restaurants to sell them vegetables during the summer and greens during the cool season, but Watts says he doesn't know what chefs expect in terms of quantities and availability.

"Do they want to buy from someone who they can count on having the same thing in certain quantities each week, or what exactly do they want?" Watts asked.

The executive chef at Waterscapes restaurant in Myrtle Beach says restaurants are asking for more locally grown products because their customers are demanding it and that's due to people today wanting to know more about where their food is coming from.

"People have more of a conscience nowadays about where their food is coming from," said chef Robbie Nicolaisen. "It started with things being organic and then it's just rapidly going from there."

Nicolaisen said products from local suppliers tend to taste better and have a longer shelf life. It's why he chooses to buy fresh fish from markets in Murrells Inlet.

"If I were to buy through a major conglomerate, the fish has probably been sitting in their cooler for a few days and then it gets to the supplier, sits there for another couple of days. By the time it gets to me, it's probably a week old," he said.

Lamie said the Market Ready workshop has touched a nerve with local farmers.

"There is a need for some professional advice on this to help bring the people together that weren't otherwise coming together, and this program kind of provides that mediating space."