Fridays on the Farm: Planting Urban Roots in South Carolina

This Friday meet Eric and Robbie McClam of City Roots Organic Farm, an urban farm located in downtown Columbia, South Carolina. This eight-acre operation grows USDA certified organic microgreens year-round, and their produce is sold to restaurants, grocery retailers and food distributors throughout the east, from New York to Florida. 

Two people sorting harvest
Urban farmers Robbie (left) and Eric McClam (right) are the owners of City Roots Organic Farm in Columbia, South Carolina. Photo Courtesy of City Roots Organic Farm.

Growing with USDA Programs 

Since 2009, City Roots has worked with both USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to install facilities and conservation practices on their farm. 

“Once we learned about USDA programs, mainly by word of mouth and through other agriculture organizations, we immediately started applying for as many programs as we were eligible for,” Eric said. “I can say with certainty that we would not be successful without utilizing these programs.”

They used two FSA Farm Operating Loans to purchase equipment and build a washing and packing facility. These loans are a valuable resource to start, maintain and strengthen a farm or ranch and, for new agricultural producers, they provide an essential gateway into agricultural production by financing the cost of operating a farm. 

Two people talking in a high tunnel
FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux (left) visits with Eric during a tour of City Roots Organic Farm. Photo by Sabrenna Bryant, FSA.

City Roots also utilized Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) from NRCS to install micro-irrigation, cover crops, compost sheds, water wells, and to implement soil preservation and nutrient management practices. EQIP provides technical and financial assistance to address natural resource concerns, helping farmers, ranchers and forest landowners integrate conservation on their operations.

Expanding with Solar Energy

In the Fall 2023, City Roots expanded its operation to include a 90-acre organic farm in rural Richland County. In addition to a 73,000-square-foot greenhouse and a distribution facility on the recently acquired property, City Roots has received grants through USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program for solar panels, LED lighting and a geothermal radiant floor system, which will be used for heating and cooling the floor where they grow their microgreens. 

Packaged produce on store shelf
The McClams have increased their production and expanded their marketing geography. Photo Courtesy of City Roots Organic Farm.

This expansion significantly increases production by six to seven times and expands City Roots’ capacity into markets well beyond their current marketing geography. As for their downtown Columbia location, City Roots continues operating their urban farm, which also includes two event rental facilities.

“I enjoy operating a farm in an urban area because it allows us to grow food where our community is,” said Eric. “We get to personally connect food to consumer.” 

Eric’s advice to anyone pursuing their urban agriculture dream is to “ensure you have season extension infrastructure, such as high tunnels or greenhouses in place in order to maximize your production and fulfill your customers’ needs year-round.” 

Two people standing in a high tunnel
Ron Howell, FSA Senior Policy Advisor on Urban Agriculture, tours the McClam’s new facility in Richland County with Eric. Photo by Laurie Funderburk, FSA State Executive Director in South Carolina. 

More Information

Visit local farms, ranches, forests, and resource areas through our Fridays on the Farm stories. Meet farmers, producers and landowners who are working to improve their operations with USDA programs.

Are you gardening or farming in an urban or suburban environment? Are you looking to integrate innovative production practices in your operation? Learn about USDA resources that can help you start and grow your operation

USDA offers a variety of risk management, disaster assistance, loan, and conservation programs to help producers weather ups and downs in the market and recover from natural disasters as well as invest in improvements to their operations. Learn about additional programs.

For more information about USDA programs and services, contact your local USDA service center. 


Sabrenna Bryant is the state communications coordinator for FSA in South Carolina.