By Mallory Cage
Edited by Corbin Ensminger
Weeks of rising gas prices soon could translate to even higher prices for food, vendors at the State Farmers Market said Tuesday.
Gas prices have risen for the fourth straight week, and a gallon of regular fuel is averaging $3.46 in South Carolina, according to AAA'S Daily Fuel Gauge Report.
"It's all going to have an effect on the price of the produce," said Mike Severt, owner of Severt & Sons Produce. "The more the cost of transportation is, the more it's going to cost at the table."
Severt said the higher gas prices affect everything, from the cost of farming and transporting the product to the warehouse all the way to the extra money he hopes customers will spend to get their produce locally instead of in the grocery store.
As an example, if gas prices keep increasing, Severt estimates it could cost almost $10 for a crate of oranges that costs about $4 now.
A year ago gas prices in Columbia were less than $3 a gallon; however, AAA estimates that gas prices could reach $4 a gallon in as few as six weeks. That would almost match the record high of $4.12 from September 2008.
Smaller farms are having a harder time adjusting. Eloy Montiel drives 70 miles from Lodge to the State Farmers Market every day to sell his produce. He says some days he works for free because he doesn't make enough money to cover the cost of gas.
"We worry a lot as gas prices get higher," Montiel said. "We barely make enough money to break even with prices as they are now. How will we sell enough to make up the difference when the gas prices go up?"
Montiel has been farming for 12 years and says not only do gas prices make it more expensive to run his equipment, but the cost of chemicals and fertilizer is also rising.
He says that while the arrival of spring and summer usually means more people come through the farmers market, he is worried that the higher gas prices could keep people from driving to the market, which has moved to Charleston Highway in West Columbia, 10 miles from its old location near downtown Columbia.
John Justus drives to the farmers market at least twice a week. It isn't far from his Gaston home, and he says there are closer options. But he likes supporting the market and understands if prices rise.
"Farmers can't cut back on the gas they use. It could take 400 gallons of fuel to run the tractors in a week, but they can't cut back unless they quit," Justus said.