COLUMBIA – A new statewide initiative called ChangeSC will connect South Carolinians living in food deserts with fresh, locally grown food while working to improve their eating habits and health outcomes.

A pilot program for the initiative launched Nov. 1 in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, focused on four counties with high food-insecurity rates: Marlboro, Dillon, Marion and Williamsburg.

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ChangeSC is led by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDA) in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). For the three-month pilot, SCDA is working with Pick 42 Foundation, a Mullins-based nonprofit food aggregator that runs the Eat Local Pee Dee program. Pick 42 Foundation will increase fresh food distribution while working with SCDA to create targeted education and outreach, helping Pee Dee residents learn how to access and prepare fresh fruits, vegetables and meats and the benefits of healthy eating.

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“We’re working together to bring fresh, nutritious food grown by South Carolina farmers directly to people in communities that lack food access, while also working to create generational change in eating habits,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers. “This initiative has the potential to transform our state.”

“Food insecurity is associated with poorer health outcomes, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. In addition, in children it is also associated with lower school achievement,” said DHEC Director Dr. Edward Simmer. “DHEC is excited to partner with SCDA and Pick 42 Foundation on this innovative pilot which allows South Carolinians to help South Carolinians. We are very hopeful it will improve the health and well-being of our citizens.”

“We are honored to partner with SCDA and DHEC to highlight the efforts of our South Carolina farmer and rancher heroes and the tremendous volunteer network in the Pee Dee,” said Miko Pickett, executive director of Pick 42 Foundation. “We are confident that at the conclusion of the pilot, the results will demonstrate the strong desire for our communities to have access to fresh local food grown and raised in the state.”

A new report from the US Department of Agriculture ranks South Carolina among the most food-insecure states, with 14.5 percent of those surveyed lacking reliable access to sufficient affordable, nutritious food. More than 80% of South Carolina’s counties have food deserts – areas in which fresh food is difficult to access.

Poor eating habits can contribute to health problems like obesity and diabetes, that, if left untreated, can be deadly.

Research conducted for the ChangeSC project has found that 94 percent of rural South Carolinians understand that eating fresh, healthy foods is somewhat to very important for their health, but the biggest barriers are price (60%) and availability (27%) in rural communities. ChangeSC aims to address that disparity.

Based on the success of the pilot program, SCDA and DHEC will roll out ChangeSC statewide, expanding coverage to at least 24 counties and implementing a comprehensive statewide education and awareness campaign. The partners will work with existing South Carolina aggregators and food hubs to buy food from South Carolina farmers and distribute it in targeted areas.

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