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The pandemic forced local food hub GrowFood Carolina to shift its primary focus from restaurants to direct-to-consumer sales, leading to a new program that further supports South Carolina farmers and communities in need of fresh produce.

Since GrowFood Carolina opened in 2011, 75 percent of sales revenue has come from restaurants, meaning the pandemic of course took a toll on daily operations. To help sustain the business and the small farms that supply it, GrowFood launched Soil to Sustenance, a donation-based program that provides fresh produce boxes to communities struggling during the pandemic.

“At this point, we’ve raised $175,000 through private sources and local supporters who realize the impact of what we’re doing to feed into Soil to Sustenance. That will help us support our growers and get food into the communities that need it most over the next 12-18 months,” GrowFood general manager Anthony Mirisciotta said. “We’re trying to bring attention to the support that we need in our immediate community.”

Here’s how it works: GrowFood purchases food from local growers out of the Soil to Sustenance fund and works with nonprofit partners like Lowcountry Food Bank, One80 Place, Enough Pie and the Humanities Foundation to distribute produce boxes at community drop off locations. Each box contains a list of the contents and recipes to help further connect the recipients to the farmers providing the food.

Prior to launching Soil to Sustenance, GrowFood donated 2,500 produce boxes to Rosemont, Bridgeview Village, the Freddie Whaley Community Center and other local neighborhoods, proving the model works. Future donations will come out of the fund, which Mirisciotta expects they’ll begin using in September.

In addition to the impact on local communities, the produce boxes help farmers diversify their revenue sources as restaurant sales have become increasingly difficult.

“We’ve all seen the stories nationally of all the adaptations going on,” Mirisciotta said. “For farmers looking ahead, we need to start creating a foundation of support so we can have a secure food system.”

That foundation could be built by direct-to-consumer sales, Mirisciotta said. After hearing about the program, several local supporters started reaching out about purchasing produce boxes from them directly, which folks can now do on their website.

They’ve sold over 1,500 to date and are also partnering with Michael Goldman and Pamela Jouan-Goldman, a Mount Pleasant couple who recently launched Made to Taste, a platform that aims to connect Charleston residents to local chefs, farmers and purveyors with produce deliveries and experiential dinners.

For $37.50, the Goldmans will deliver a bundle of recently harvested vegetables, eggs and fresh fruit curated by GrowFood along with a card connecting each ingredient to the farm it came from. Orders can be placed on their website, madetotaste.com, where you’ll also find cooking tips and features on some of the local farms. One tip might offer suggestions for cooking organic badger flame beets, while another might explain the nutritional value of Swiss chard.

“It seems people have more time on their hands right now to cook, and I hope to offer them a little inspiration through the curated boxes and the recipes and tips,” Pamela said.

GrowFood Carolina represents nearly 100 farmers, growers and purveyors. Mirisciotta believes Soil to Sustenance is crucial to the Charleston farming community and knows the program wouldn’t be possible without support from those who have donated and local partners like the Goldmans.

“We’ve had people contribute $10 and we’ve had people contribute $10,000,” Mirisciotta said. “We will continue to do the seasonal production planning with our growers and provide them with the certainty that we have these extra funds to purchase from them.”

To donate to Soil to Sustenance or place an order for a farm box, visit coastalconservationleague.org/soil-to-sustenance.