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S.C. farmers selected for development program

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The Agribusiness Center for Research and Entrepreneurship mentoring program has selected seven farmers statewide to participate in the second year of an S.C. Department of Agriculture program that offers grants, education and research funding for business development.

The agriculture department launched ACRE in 2018.

“Heading into our second year, we are now even better positioned to help these seven dedicated and impressive entrepreneurs,” said ACRE executive director Kyle Player.

Chosen through a competitive application process, the ACRE agribusinesses will receive $125,000 in grants and mentorship support, according to a news release from the agriculture department.

ACRE program farmers selected include Richland County’s Jason Thomas of Sow Inc.; Debbie Webster of Whispering Pines Farm in Pickens County; Jared Jester of Heritage Peanut Co. in Beaufort County; Matthew and Tracy Woodard of Covered in Cotton in Darlington County; Josh Eboch of Barrier Island Oyster Co. and Brian Wheat of Common Joy, both in Charleston County; and Steve Lorch of Table Rock Tea Co. in Pickens County.

Thomas developed an online marketplace that connects small, local farmers to shoppers in their area. Thomas plans to use the funding to continue to develop the app.

Webster’s Whispering Pines Farm has been in business since 1980 but recently started specializing in sheep dairy products and is now the only sheep dairy producer in South Carolina, according to the release. Webster will use the ACRE funding to purchase equipment for milk storage, hire more personnel and increase marketing.

Jester’s Heritage Peanut Co. packages and sells frozen boiled peanuts. Partnering with Corrin Bowers, a peanut farmer from Estill, Jester plans to use the ACRE funding for operating and marketing expenses.

Covered in Cotton, founded in 2018 by Matthew and Tracy Woodard, produces and sells cotton blankets made with cotton from the company’s Darlington County farm. With the ACRE grant funds, the company plans to develop and market new bedding.

Eboch and Jared Hulteen began Barrier Island Oyster Co. as the first floating oyster farm in Charleston County. They plan to begin offering tours and education aimed at increasing Charleston agritourism while protecting the native oyster population.

After planting a thriving initial crop and forming a co-op with local farmers, Lorch plans to use the ACRE money to purchase more equipment.

Wheat, the state’s first luffa farmer, is ramping up his cultivation. Also spelled loofah, the sustainable plant can be used as both an edible vegetable when fresh and as a sponge when dried.

“By offering targeted funding to these seven entrepreneurs, ACRE is helping to nurture innovation in South Carolina agriculture,” S.C. Department of Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said. “Whether by growing new industries or finding new approaches to existing industries, (the entrepreneurs) all have the potential to spur economic development in our state.”

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