WALHALLA, S.C. (WSPA) – When you’re eating food, do you think about where it comes from?
A new task force in Oconee County wants you to pay attention. They said your food may be closer than you think.
Viable farmland is declining in Oconee County, but a new group of representatives is working behind the scenes to address this issue that’s been going on for decades.
The new task force is filled with many voices, each one calling for the community to realize what’s happening to local farms.
They said the goal is to protect farmers and those jobs, which in turn will protect the community by maintaining food security.
Natalie Arnold is a member of the task force and a fourth generation farmer in Oconee.
“Farmers are feeling squeezed right now,” said Arnold. “They really are struggling to figure out a path forward.”
Arnold said, as a farmer, she’s connected with many people through food. But she wants people to feel connected to her and the food they eat as well.
“If we don’t deal with this issue then we’re going to continue to see problems with supply chain, with being able to have connection to our land and our agriculture, not only in this area but throughout the country.”
James Cooley, Oconee County Director of Planning and Zoning, said a big issue is land usage. Homes are being built where food could be produced.
“Right now, the majority of the larger subdivisions going into Oconee County are in a control free zoning district so they are unregulated for use,” explained Cooley. “So there’s no restrictions on the type of use that’s being done in those areas and there’s a concern that potentially there could be better uses than residential homes in some of those areas.”
Oconee County Council has attempted to address declining agricultural land in the past, but Cooley said this new task force is a big step.
“I think county council has done things in the past, like they have started and funded the farm center, they have continued to encourage the school districts to fund and support Future Farmers of America and 4H,” said Cooley. “They have been involved in some of those processes, this is a formal step that is the next step in that process of continuing to protect farmland.”
The task force said education is key to solving this problem.
“It’s trying to figure out how we can utilize the tools at our disposal in order to stay true to who we are as a county,” said Arnold.
The task force will have a rough draft of their recommendations and plan in December or January before presenting to the Oconee County Council in February.