Everyone likes the idea of cooking and eating sustainably produced food grown close to home. However, finding such food and determining where that “local” label refers to are where it gets tricky. Many small-scale farmers fail to get represented in markets and on restaurant menus because they lack access to the same distribution facilities as larger, big-business purveyors. GrowFood Carolina, a farmer-focused, nonprofit food hub, is dedicated to bridging that gap.
Started by the Coastal Conservation League in 2011, GrowFood Carolina’s work goes deeper than the farm-to-table trend. By partnering with 120 farmers throughout South Carolina, the organization distributes quality, locally grown ingredients to chefs, grocers, and home cooks in the state. Their span even goes as far as Savannah, Mobile, and Charlotte.
GrowFood Carolina provides the sales, marketing, warehousing, and distribution of food that smaller farmers wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Their team travels throughout the state to see what farms are growing and harvesting, and then they share with chefs what’s new and exciting from farmers. They sell goods from a single source, and chefs and grocers can localize their shopping to a particular county, community, or even farm.
New Directions for GrowFood Carolina
When restaurants had to shutter during the pandemic, GrowFood adjusted their scope beyond wholesale. They worked with the government and local subsidies to purchase farmers’ products and distribute them to schools, hospitals, institutions, and underserved communities that normally wouldn’t have access to premium, local ingredients.
“We were able to raise over $200,000 over three to four months, just by sharing our story,” Anthony Mirisciotta says, one of the founding members of GrowFood Carolina. “We designed a program where we never stepped away from supporting our farmers when they needed help the most.”
This adjusted business model took hold. Now GrowFood Carolina works with the Charleston Head Start program to continue connecting families with nearby farmers. “Nothing is more powerful than knowing we’re feeding local people food that’s locally produced,” Mirisciotta says.
To further assist chefs, grocers, and individuals with sourcing South Carolina-grown food, GrowFood collaborated with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture’s Fresh on the Menu program. This campaign identifies restaurants and stores dedicated to serving Certified South Carolina ingredients. GrowFood Carolina’s website provides a guide to their entire clientele, pinpointing where people can order locally grown fare or shop for farm-fresh produce.
“Food is something personal to everyone,” Mirisciotta says. “When people look at a menu and see where their food is from, most of them have a connection to one of the places or people there. Food helps them reconnect with that place.”
- by Tate Jacaruso
- by TLP's Partners
- by Erin Byers Murray