Welcome to the December Word from the Warehouse, the monthly newsletter from GrowFood Carolina, where you can find out what is happening in our warehouse, learn more about one of the 100 growers we work with, and hear about how our work supports the mission of the Coastal Conservation League.
GrowFood Carolina continues to innovate and evolve while remaining dedicated to South Carolina farmers and agriculture, so we are excited to announce our participation within The Eastern Food Hub Collaborative, a network of East Coast food hubs that share the common objective of aggregating and distributing local food in support of better farming and more resilient food systems. This partnership is focused on sharing the bounty of the East Coast’s seasons which will allow our farmers to access more markets to sell their products and will allow us to access fresh food during South Carolina’s slower seasons.
As always, please also feel free to reach out to me with feedback and ideas on how to make Word from the Warehouse better.
I want to thank everyone who has made a gift to the Soil to Sustenance program, which connects produce from local farmers to food insecure families in the region. So far, we have raised enough for 1,900 food boxes of food. If you’d like to make a contribution, please visit our website.
What’s in season?
Last week’s winter solstice means that daylight hours are slowly increasing as we move into the New Year, and we can expect crop production to begin picking up in the weeks to come.
Even during this slower part of the season, winter crops, such as sweet potatoes, late season citrus, and many varieties of greens, continue to thrive and make their way into the warehouse. And as we begin preparing for the New Year, we’re excited to load up our plates with local collard greens on New Year’s Day—a southern tradition.
Across the world, different cultures ring in the New Year with their own food traditions that promise good fortune in the year to come. The southern tradition of eating collard greens and black-eyed peas is thought to bring good luck and prosperity in the New Year, with collard greens representing wealth.
Collard greens originated in the Mediterranean. But the way they are traditionally prepared in the South—simmering them with hunks of salty pork to produce a richly flavored broth, or pot likker—traces back to enslaved Africans, who grew, harvested, and cooked them.
Collards are a cold hardy plant that actually become sweeter in the winter. As temperatures dip, the plant converts stored starch into sugar to distribute into the plant’s cells, which acts as a kind of jacket toprevent damage from the cold weather. It also makes the greens taste better, which reminds us that we get food at peak flavor when we “eat with the seasons.”
Collard greens are one of Joey and Erin McQuade’s favorite vegetables to grow at Sylvan Farm. They also love preparing them to share with their family.
Joey has a deep respect for the plant as well. He explained that when harvesting the greens, the outer leaves are collected while the newer, inner leaves are left intact, making collards an ideal crop because the plant can be harvested more than once in a season.
The McQuades established Sylvan Farm in 2011 in the small town of Saluda, located west of Columbia in the Midlands of South Carolina, after moving back to the East Coast. As big foodies, Joey and Erin were fascinated with farming and felt sure they wanted to raise their children in the country.
The overgrown farm took a few years to clean up, but once it was ready, the McQuades went to work planting a one-acre vegetable garden and raising grass-fed cattle and pasture-raised pigs.
There was no question in their minds that they wanted to grow organically. They knew that becoming USDA Certified Organic would protect their family’s land and be healthier for their customers. Maintaining the certification requires completing a lot of paperwork, and that can be challenging. But it’s worth it in the long run, Joey said.
Joey and Erin started out delivering their products to local restaurants and stores around Saluda. Now, the family grows on 25 acres and has recently purchased land adjacent to the farm with the long-term goal of eventually growing on 80 acres. And they say working with GrowFood was instrumental in them being able to expand. “GrowFood allowed us to take that next step,” Joey said. Instead of making small deliveries in the Saluda area, the family now packs pallets and takes them to GrowFood to be distributed across the state.
With GrowFood’s help, Sylvan Farm has also been able to forge a relationship with Whole Foods and get their greens into the corporate retail space. “That was incredible,” Joey said. “As a small family farm, one of the biggest goals and biggest reward is having your products in Whole Foods.”
Whole Foods is just one of the retail spaces where GrowFood delivers products from Sylvan Farm. If you’re interested in picking up some of their organic collard greens for your New Year’s Day meal, check out Brighter Day Natural Foods Market, Catawba Farm and Food Coalition, Lowcountry Street Grocery, Primal Gourmet, Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery, The Veggie Bin, any Whole Foods in the Charleston, Columbia and Greenville area, and any Harris Teeter in the Charleston area.
GrowFood helped Sylvan Farm reach new markets to sell their products, which enabled the business togrow. That’s exactly what GrowFood set out to do when it opened its doors in 2011. The McQuades took advantage of all GrowFood has to offer—creating markets and providing crop planning, storage, and distribution services.
The food hub connects small farms to the thriving local food movement, which helps farming remain economically viable, especially if they want to grow organically. When farmers are able to keep farming, we’re not only protecting our land, waterways, and wildlife from threats of development, we’re also protecting South Carolina’s rich agricultural heritage.
Sylvan Farm is just one of the 120 farms that we work with in South Carolina and its partnership with GrowFood has been a success. By supporting small farmers like Joey and Erin, we’re able to keep precious agricultural land in production and enjoy delicious local collard greens this winter season.