Food & Drink

S.C. flood may ruin farm fields, but some good is cropping up

Luca Annunziata and Casey Griffin of Passion8 were part of a team that has been cooking in Columbia all week.
Luca Annunziata and Casey Griffin of Passion8 were part of a team that has been cooking in Columbia all week. Courtesy of Passion8

Yes, it’s a global economy, but in the food world, the trend is toward a smaller world. So when a major flood sweeps across a state right next door, it splashes all over us, too.

Nobody knows yet how high the food loss will be. Hugh Weathers, the S.C. commissioner of agriculture, was still saying Thursday that the most conservative estimate of crop loss is $300 million. But it will probably go higher.

Hit hard in the S.C. flood: Fall greens Peanuts Late tomatoes Pumpkins

Here in Charlotte, we’ll see the effect of that, especially in farmers markets. The Charlotte Regional Farmers Market has a dozen vendors and farmers who come from areas that were affected, including York, Lancaster, Chester and Kershaw counties. While the northwest area of the state, from Spartanburg toward Georgia, was spared, the farm-packed central state from Columbia to Charleston was hit hard. And the flood came just as produce was moving from summer to fall, so a lot of things such as pumpkins, greens and peanuts were heavily damaged.

“Lexington County (west of Columbia) is a great vegetable source for you,” Weathers said. “It’s going to have some impact.”

Harvey Kiker, whose Fat Boy Produce takes up a big corner of the regional market, was trying to feel out the losses. He buys from a lot of S.C. farms and also gets produce from the S.C. State Farmers Market in Columbia. For the next few weeks at least, you’ll see less on market tables like his.

“It’s real bad, especially down in Lexington County, where a lot of greens come from,” Kiker said. “Collard greens, mustard greens, turnips. It ruined that stuff. Ruined late tomatoes. The farmers took a bad beating down there.”

Even crops that can recover quickly, such as greens, may have to be destroyed if they were touched by floodwaters. Floods can carry human waste, insecticides, dead animals. No one knows how that will affect what’s in the fields until they dry out enough that farmers can get back in.

People just volunteered to go, not even knowing what they were walking into. It’s still dangerous on the roads down there.

Kris Reid, Piedmont Culinary Guild

Still, even the darkest cloud can have silver linings. In Charlotte, a whole community of chefs led by Luca Annunziata of Passion8 started mobilizing Monday. The Piedmont Culinary Guild rounded up donated food, a lot from local farms, equipment, water and money, and loaded it into trucks, including the Chrome Toaster food truck from Aaron Rivera of Tapas 51. Annunziata even hauled his barbecue cooker.

Guild executive director Kris Reid of modPaleo stayed behind in Charlotte to coordinate efforts while nearly a dozen chefs and volunteers – from Greg Collier of The Yolk in Rock Hill to food fan Courtney Valvo – hit the road.

“People just volunteered to go, not even knowing what they were walking into,” Reid said. “It’s still dangerous on the roads down there.”

The chef team ended up in the kitchens of two schools in Irmo, Seven Oaks Elementary Magnet and A.C. Flora High School. Since Tuesday night, they’ve fed hundreds of families from nearby neighborhoods and put together 800 meals they’ve driven out to people.

Annunziata was heading back Thursday night to reopen his restaurant and cook for a weekend wedding, but Collier is staying through Friday. David Feimster of Fahrenheit is headed down Friday with a rented truck loaded with 40 cases of water. They got so many cash donations, they’ll be able to give it to the schools to keep feeding people.

“Luca deserves a parade when he comes home,” Reid said. “It took a lot of people to pull it off. I’m so proud of who we are in the community. Putting a hot meal in somebody’s belly is more than nutrients.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis