The Coastal Conservation League started local food hub GrowFood Carolina in 2011 with the goal of championing small-scale agriculture by providing local, often rural, farmers the sales, marketing and logistics guidance they need to get their products to market. The hub has since grown from five to more than 120 farmers — and it hopes to offer even more support once it moves out of its Morrison Drive warehouse, general manager Anthony Mirisciotta told the City Paper.
“GrowFood is really well-positioned for the future, and so much of that is really thanks to our communities,” he said.
Talk to the majority of Charleston chefs, and they’ll probably mention the GrowFood produce-of-the-moment they’re excited to feature on the menu. It’s a name that’s synonymous with Charleston cuisine and is responsible for helping small fish like Black Pearl Farms, Lowland Farms and Shuler Farm, get into 167 Raw, Estadio, The Ordinary and many more local restaurants and big box grocery stores.
“We kind of opened up the doors not really knowing what was coming, and really, all of us have grown together,” Mirisciotta said. “Ten years ago, the local food landscape was a lot different, and now, we have expanded from one cold room that was empty most of the year until, now, we have three different cold rooms that are bursting with different flavors and varieties year after year.”
GrowFood doesn’t just bring farmers’ products to market; it also helps give farmers access to new produce. This summer, GrowFood brought a popular tomato in Japan to S.C. for the first time by connecting a California seed farmer with Sylvan Farm in Saluda.
“It’s something that we were really excited about, and I think a lot of chefs have been excited about it as well. The Momotaro is prized for its picture-perfect appearance, crisp, crunchy texture and sweet-but-tart flavor,” Mirisciotta said. “It was also really productive for the farmer, and I could say really confidently that’s the first time that tomato would have ever been grown in South Carolina soil.”
GrowFood introduces 20-30 new varieties like the Momotaro to S.C. farms annually. This will be a key part of its business model moving forward, Mirisciotta said.
“We spread it out amongst the growers, so everybody has the opportunity to jump into these trials if they’re interested,” he said. “Those value-added products; that’s what makes farmers successful, especially in a flooded market. It really shapes the future of who we are and what we do.”
GrowFood was set to celebrate its 10th anniversary Oct. 10 at The Royal American, another Morrison Drive establishment celebrating an anniversary in October, but Mirisciotta and his team decided to postpone the gathering. The future celebration will serve as a going away party of sorts for the food hub, which is currently shopping for a new warehouse after selling the 990 Morrison Dr. property with a contingency that it can stay through the end of 2022.
“It’s hard to pick up a business after 10 years and move. I think last week I counted seven cranes, so I kind of feel like we’re living in a cartoon; a little old house being surrounded by these structures,” said Mirsciotta, discussing the massive real estate developments that have popped up around the warehouse. “I’m not sure if it’s a landscape GrowFood fits into on Morrison Drive. But, we have outgrown this space; that is the bottom line.”
Mirisciotta hopes GrowFood’s new HQ — still in the works — will have room for a small farm, along with features to serve partners.
“We’ve always asked farmers to get products to our door in Charleston, but we’re really looking to build on what we know and what is going to better support our farmers,” he said. “I think a lot of the ideas depend on the space that we do find.”
Parker Milner is the former cuisine editor for Charleston City Paper.