LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. — The past year proved to be one of the greatest challenges for Midlands farmers and restaurant owners.
COVID-19 quite literally brought business to a halt in 2020. However, many worked to adapt and created a new business model overnight.
In a short series, News 19 is interviewing eight local land stewards and restaurant owners to learn more about their journeys navigating business during a pandemic.
In this story, we learned more about how COVID-19 impacted Jason Roland's role in farm-to-table operations. Roland is the Owner and Operator of Organically Roland in Lexington County.
"I started out doing this because we grew up really, really poor and we had to have this to eat," said Roland. "I just fell in love with it and can't imagine doing anything else."
At this small organic farm in Red Bank, collard greens, radicchio, kale and potatoes are just a fraction of the crops sprouting from the earth.
But this year, what's growing in great abundance at Organically Roland doesn't come from the ground. It's hope, and it comes from the heart.
"I have been doing this, growing organic produce and selling it directly to restaurants since I was 17 years old - I made my first restaurant sale," said Roland. "I am now 26, so this is all I've ever done."
Last year, as restaurants began to shut down and profits began to dwindle, Roland and his wife, Ami, were forced to pivot.
"My income went from 95% coming from restaurants to almost zero overnight," he said.
To make money, he and his wife created a new business plan in two days.
"Thankfully my wife is smarter than I am, and we started doing a home delivery CSA and a pickup CSA and that saved us," said Roland. "If it wasn't for that, we would have nothing."
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, where consumers can purchase a share of seasonal produce every week.
Since the pandemic began, Roland is staying busy. He is now in a position where he can operate successfully using the CSA model alone.
As for restaurant business, he says thankfully he doesn't need as much as he used to in previous years, and is "sharing the love" with other local land stewards.
In 2021, Roland is finding himself back in his green house. During the pandemic, he focused more on "quick crops" for business that didn't require the head start of green house plants.
Now, for the first time in a long time, he's growing in the green house again.
"I have about 8,000 tomato plants, about 2,000 to 3,000 bell peppers and around 1,000 eggplants going," said Roland. "Absolutely, things are looking up."
White mango turmeric, Chayote and ginger are also growing beautifully in the green house. With the current state of business, Roland is now working to bring the most special part of his farm to your table.
"It's actually starting to have joy back in it where it was sucked out of everything. I'm glad that's coming back because we all love what we do, we really do," he added.
"Not only can I provide for myself, provide food and money, we can provide for other people. We can provide for the community, for restaurants, all of the above. That makes it worthwhile."