Emile DeFelice, agriculture commissioner


Tuesday, 1:15 p.m. — As I’ve mentioned here before, Emile DeFelice is a very cool candidate. We know that because he is a habitue of this blog. He has been known to comment, using his full name (as all good bloggers should), but by his own admission, "I don’t participate that often." He likes to read it, though: "I’m what they call a ‘lurker‘."

He does not intend to play such a passive role if elected to head the state’s Department of Agriculture, however. There’d be a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on. If he has anything to do with it, South Carolina will be farming — and eating — in a whole new way.

His enthusiasm for change is infectious. He says things like "America is falling in love — again, I should say — with agriculture. And food. Farming. A lot of people are discovering their inner farmer," and it doesn’t even sound particularly weird. You can get caught up in what he calls "gastroeconomics."

"It’s truly the most democratic thing we have," he says. "And I see issues everywhere" — not just among members of the Farm Bureau. Everyone should care deeply about this race, he believes: "It’s bigger than the governor. I mean really, this is our food…"

Think of him as the Oliver Wendell Douglas in this campaign. When he talks about farming and America, you can hear the fife playing "Yankee Doodle" in the background.

Like many candidates, Mr. De Felice says he got involved when he couldn’t get the incumbent involved in something he saw as important. He went to Commissioner Hugh Weathers with an idea to revitalize the dairy industry in the state through the organic approach. "He literally kicked back in his chair and said, ‘This just ain’t gonna fly in South Carolina’."

Actually, Mr. Weathers may be right. Mr. De Felice’s affinity for organic farming and macrobiotics may be a little too innovative for a lot of voters. But I think his approach is great. He certainly has the best slogan of anybody running for any office this year — of anybody running for any office since I’ve been covering S.C. politics: "Put Your State on Your Plate."

To eat local — thereby encouraging farmers to grow a variety of foods, and stimulating grocers to stock their produce — just makes sense on every possible level, not the least of which being that it helps promote energy independence. He invokes the spirit of the Victory Garden.

"It’s the way to eat your way to a much better state," he says.

Mr. DeFelice started out selling herbs "out of my backyard in Olympia" to a retailer at the Farmer’s Market. Now, he grows hogs. He freely admits that they aren’t certified organic, though, because he has no local organic source of feed with which to supplement their grazing. (The farm on which they graze, however, apparently is organic — at least, according to his Web site.) So he’s not doctrinaire. He seems happy just to move in the right direction, as much as possible.

He’s not about theories. He said his opponent is proud of having gotten $600,000 in non-recurring state funds to market South Carolina farm products. He doesn’t study it; "I do it. I don’t need their money… We are marketing our state." He’s also proud that he doesn’t take subsidies in his farming business: "I farm the free market."


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