This special edition of Word from the Warehouse is meant to share the news that I am stepping away from my role as General Manager of GrowFood Carolina, a project of the Coastal Conservation League. I know it’s not nearly as fun as a farm story or recipe from a famous chef.
This decision is and was a difficult one to make. I love my work and admire all the dedicated people that make up the GrowFood community. I remain deeply committed to our mission. But I also know sincerely that it is time for a change.
For the next few months, I will continue in my role and help ensure a smooth transition. Ultimately, I plan to move from Charleston, do some exploring and figure out the next chapter. I have learned a great deal and will carry those lessons with me.
Nearly eight years ago, my friend, William Cogswell, called me in San Francisco to ask for my thoughts on a new farmland preservation project that the Conservation League was considering. I was immediately intrigued. The project already reflected my passion for helping small farmers reach wider markets—advancing financial stability and reducing the risk of selling farmland to developers. I was volunteering with an agricultural land trust and working with farmers, and I knew a program like the one William described could make a real difference.
In further conversations, the Conservation League’s leadership and Board of Directors shared its progressive vision with me and offered me the opportunity to lead the project. I made the big, exciting leap, and in June of 2011 found myself in an abandoned warehouse in Charleston. On October 1, we opened the doors to South Carolina’s first local food hub. I will always look back on that day with gratitude and pride.
In seven and a half short and long years, the team has created direct partnerships with more than 85 local producers, farming over 2,500 acres. We’ve sold $6.85 million of local produce, returning nearly $5.5 million back to our farmer partners. Every year, we have worked with farmers to create a consistent and diverse supply to drive increased consumer demand for fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables—and, in turn, helped farmers expand and cultivate more rural acreage. We add new buyers each week and now sell to more than 300 restaurants, 25 grocers and a dozen institutions in Charleston, Columbia, Greenville and Savannah. Last year, with four other hubs, we launched the S.C. Food Hub Network, which connects even more local producers to buyers throughout the state.
Perhaps most importantly, we’ve educated our community about the critical need to conserve productive landscapes and the economic and environmental benefits (and joy!) of eating food grown close to home. Together—farmers, chefs, staff, donors, partners, advocates and you—we have built GrowFood Carolina up from a vision to a movement.
While there are challenges at every level in local and regional food systems, the rewards of healthy communities and landscapes are 100 percent worth the effort. I will leave GrowFood Carolina in a strong and steady place, but there is more work to do. I am confident Executive Director Laura Cantral and our talented team will take it to the next level.
It has been a privilege to serve in this role. Each day was vastly different than the previous, and the years were marked by obstacles, opportunities and lots of laughter. Through it all, I remained consistently inspired by South Carolina’s farmers and their collective fortitude. We are so lucky to have them. They feed us.
In the coming weeks, I will do my best to reach out personally to the many amazing individuals who have helped me along the way. For now, let me say thank you for everything.
General Manager – GrowFood Carolina
Coastal Conservation League