Thursday, April 19, 2012

I'm A Nosy Neighbor. But It's Cool.

Where does your food come from? A few years ago, I would have answered this question by naming my favorite grocery store. In the not too distant past however, I began to have a deeper interest in food, particularly in it's origins. Granted, the buy local movement is at heights that I never would have imagined five years ago, so I'm not exactly setting a trend here, but, the more I've learned, the more I've been interested in the process that allows us such an array of amazing things to eat, right here in Charleston.

The South has historically been an agrarian society. Agriculture has played an enormous role since day one of European settling and while that role may have morphed over the centuries, farming has never gone away. Even more locally than that, Lowcountry has farm traditions that go back generations upon generations. We in Charleston are literally surrounded by a multitude of farms producing everything along the gamut of basic issue garden veggies to rare and almost forgotten delicacies.

Yet when I make my regular grocery shopping trips, I don't usually see Pete Ambrose's strawberries. Or Joseph Fields' tomatoes. Grocers, especially Piggly Wiggly and Whole Foods are including more locally sourced produce but local can be a farm that's 500 miles away. Granted, that is better than getting your tomatoes from a corporate farm in California but I'd really rather have the ones I know are growing ten miles away. But to get those, I need to drive ten miles to the farmer's market on a Saturday morning. True, this market is a wonderful place to get amazing produce and more, but when I'm on my way home from work and have two children in tow, that market can seem a million miles away.

Problem, meet solution. Last summer, I noticed that we were getting new work neighbors. My office is on Morrison Drive (NoMo, for those of you hip Charleston City Paper readers), and when people do something like, say, paint a gigantic mural of pure awesome on the side of a building, I notice.

I'd like to introduce my neighbors, GrowFood Carolina. Here, in their own words, is what they do: "GrowFood Carolina is a non-profit local food hub with a mission to revitalize our local food system. We support local farmers with crop planning, warehousing, distribution, and marketing and sales coordination in an effort to increase the amount of local food sold in the marketplace. GrowFood Carolina also plays a critical role in the promotion of sustainable agriculture through community partnerships, outreach and education."

By partnering with grocery stores, restaurants and other food providers, GFC becomes the middle man between the farmers and the consumers. While you cannot buy directly from them, they are making serious headway in making it more accessible and convenient. This is super exciting to me because I'm a busy working mom who wants to buy locally but doesn't have the time to commit to it other than the occasional trip to the farmer's market. And while I do believe that there is a place for some large scale agriculture - I just want to have access to the local stuff as much as I can.

What I really would like to point out how much this benefits the community as a whole. Local consumers doing business (albeit indirectly) with local producers. Corporations become more anchored and invested in the communities they serve. Farming traditions being passed down to future generations. Education and empowerment in financially depressed rural areas. People recognizing that we are all connected, no matter how tangentially. Keeping our money in our community! Honestly, I just can't see a downside.

GrowFood has kindly provided me with some easy ways to be involved with this effort:

• BUY LOCAL and demand more local products wherever you eat or buy fresh food. Even a small increase in the amount we source and consume locally can make a huge difference.

• Educate others in the community on why it’s important to keep more of our food dollars in South Carolina.

• Financially support GrowFood Carolina through private donations and grants.

• Support organizations and programs that benefit local farmers.

• Support our customers! Visit our website for the most current list.

If you want to know more, check their website and social media: AND AND @growfoodsc - Twitter

I'll leave you with this video that is actually a commercial for Chipoltle. I saw it for the first time on the Grammy's and loved it. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did...

What about you guys? Do you find it challenging to buy locally? Are you interested? Do you think it's a trend or a change? I'd really love to hear from my readers around the country for some regional perspectives!

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