The State Farmers Market is a three-site system of state-sponsored facilities designed to bring growers and consumers of agricultural products together. Operated by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, markets in Columbia, Greenville, and the Pee Dee provide leased spaces to wholesale and retail vendors. All three markets have offered South Carolina fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other commodities. Some out-of-state produce has also been offered. Beginning in the late twentieth century, ornamental plants have been marketed, and annual floral festivals have drawn thousands of buyers.
The markets’ economic impact has been considerable. For example, Columbia’s Bluff Road market generated $275 million in annual sales in 2000. Vendors provided employment to one thousand full-time and another one thousand part-time employees. The Greenville and Pee Dee markets, though not as large as the Columbia site, have added significantly to the economies of their respective regions.
The facilities in all three cities grew from earlier public markets. Indeed, the Columbia market was among the first enterprises organized in the capital city. Until the 1860s the market was located in the basement of the city hall. Later the market moved to Assembly Street, where it remained for eight decades. The influence of the market may still be seen in the street’s wide medians. Years of growth led to the creation of a new, fifty-four-acre facility off Bluff Road, which opened in 1951. “The Million Dollar Market” initially consisted of five sheds and four warehouses and was a vast improvement over the former downtown location. In 1974 the South Carolina Department of Agriculture assumed control of the facility. The Bluff Road site has been slated for replacement by 2010.
The Greenville market moved from the city hall to a separate agricultural complex in 1949. Nearly doubling in size, the operation remained under the direction of Greenville County until 1979, when the State Department of Agriculture assumed ownership.
In 1983 the Pee Dee market moved from downtown Florence to the site of the former Tobacco Experiment Station, located on U.S. Highway 52 between Florence and Darlington. The facility has had wholesale and retail facilities and a horticulture center. The newest of the three state-owned farmers markets has provided a place for the buyers and sellers of yet another South Carolina region to come together, to the benefit of both.
“It’s Big Business When S.C. Farmers Come to the State Farmers Market.” South Carolina Magazine 19 (May 1955): 16–17, 37.