New restaurants. New growers. New events.
Columbia’s once quiet culinary scene is thriving, and many residents are joining a nationwide trend of supporting locally grown foods.
Residents who want to get involved in food – beyond cooking and eating it – might want to check out these four major food groups in the Columbia area devoted to food production.
All welcome new members and volunteers to help grow a mission of supporting local food.
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Slow Food Columbia
This group is part of an international Slow Food organization aimed in part at preserving local food cultures and traditions and boosting interest in where food comes from.
Globally, the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity created the Ark of Taste program that travels the world collecting and drawing attention to small-scale productions of foods that belong to specific cultures, history and traditions that are at risk of extinction within a few generations in the hope of saving and preserving them. Among the Ark of Taste entries for South Carolina are the Carolina African Runner Peanut, Sea Island Red Peas, and Carolina Gold Rice – which have all been saved and successfully put back into production. Seashore Black Rye, a hardy 19th century strain used for forage, soil building and grain is the latest crop to be nominated to join South Carolina’s Ark of Taste entries.
Here in Columbia, newly elected Slow Food Columbia co-chairs Vanessa Driscoll Bialobreski, founder of Farm to Table Events Company, and Erin Eisele, communications and programs manager at City Roots Farm, have plans to expand awareness and membership in the local chapter.
She also says that Slow Food Columbia members are in the process of creating an in-school education program, working with Nate Bradford (Bradford Watermelons) and Keith Mearns (horticulturist at Historic Columbia) to teach children about the benefits of growing and eating locally grown foods. Volunteers are needed for this project.
The group also has monthly happy hour meet-ups and special meal events, including a pairing of farmers asnd chefs for a Chef’s Potluck April 23 at City Roots.
To join: Go first to the national site, www.slowfood.org, and select the local Columbia chapter. You can choose the level of involvement you prefer: simple membership, volunteer on one of the committees, or become a board member. Membership gives you discounts to local Slow Food events and the national newsletter. Slow Food Columbia Facebook page.
Sustainable Midlands encourages responsible neighborhood growth through New Urbanism, with (walkable neighborhoods that feature public spaces and a range of housing and shopping types, including mixed use. There’s also an emphasis on smart use and conservation of natural resources, local food production, and sustainable, environmentally friendly lifestyles.
Executive director Autumn Perkins said the group is currently researching food deserts – areas within a community where fresh, locally grown foods, including meats, fruits and vegetables, are not easily accessible – in communities including Lower Richland and North Main in Columbia, along with parts of Fairfield County.
Members are working with Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department to create more school and community gardens, and after-school programs geared toward gardening and sustainability. Volunteers, students and teachers become involved in a range of projects that include planting in on-site raised beds, recycling initiatives, and learning about nutrition, waste reduction and a cleaner environment.
Sustainable Midlands also sponsors events and seminars geared toward wider environmental awareness, including involvement with the Rocky Branch Watershed and Smith Branch Watershed, Adopt-A-Stream programs, and a Pollinator Protection Program that encourages planting a garden or landscaping with bee-friendly plants and protecting bees in other ways.
Among upcoming Sustainable Midlands events this spring and summer are Wine for Water, an Earth Day event/fundraiser April 19 for the Rocky Branch, Smith Branch and Gills Creek watershed associations; Tasty Tomato Festival at City Roots and a tomato-centric restaurant week in August; and Midlands Farm Tour (focusing on Sumter County) and Midlands Farm Guide, scheduled for summer.
To join: See www.sustainablemidlands.org
Midlands Food Alliance
The Midlands Food Alliance was launched after a summit of local food producers, farmers, distributors and eaters in August 2014 focusingon the most pressing issues facing Midlands food systems. Focusing on equitable, healthy food access, Midlands Food Alliance first began in earnest in 2015 as a subgroup of Sustainable Midlands, then last fall broke out on its own.
Ariel Brooks, one of the leaders of Midlands Food Alliance and owner/operator of Humble Farm in Gilbert, said the group’s main focus is to create a resilient food system in the Midlands, working “with other regional groups to develop a web of linked agencies that will strengthen advocacy for fresh food initiatives in the area.
“Food brings us together,” she said, and that is one of the reasons the Food Alliance hosts quarterly potluck dinners at local farms. These dinners allow regular consumers to sit down and connect with the farmer/grower and serve as an opportunity for educational outreach. Brooks said the alliance plans the dinners in hopes of initiating food policy council start-ups in different counties that can help monitor and shape local food laws and regulations.
Among the group’s upcoming events are a food desert mapping discussion, 10:30 a.m. Feb. 27, at Central Midlands Council of Governments’ conference room, 236 Stoneridge Drive; Midlands Local Food Collaborative Meeting, 9-11:30 a.m. Feb. 28, at Central Midlands Council of Governments’ conference room, 236 Stoneridge Drive; Land Access Initiative, 9:30-11 a.m. March 1, Room 214 at Richland Library Main; MFA + Slow Food Columbia Potluck, March 21 at City Roots; Love Local Spring Seed Exchange, 2:30-4:30 p.m. March 26 at Rosewood Market; Patchwork Farms Patch to Plate Dinner coming in May.
To join: www.facebook.com/midlandsfoodalliance. Subscribe to a monthly newsletter (email firstname.lastname@example.org) or follow the Facebook page, where you will see the opportunities to get involved in the alliance and allied groups.
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s mission is to help people in North Carolina and South Carolina eat local, organic food by advocating for fair farm and food policies. The group is a bridge between small and mid-size farmers and consumers, and works to ensure a secure infrastructure for farmers and local food producers.
You don’t have to be a farmer to join, just have an interest in where your food comes from and how it is grown. In recent years, the organization has become involved in advocating to change agriculture laws and regulations to benefit local and organic small and mid-sized farms.
Katie Welborn, S.C. policy coordinator for Carolina Farm Stewards, said the group consists of four teams:
Food systems: This group researches the feasibility of the creation and growth of farmers markets and food hubs for distribution; and aids farmers, growers, and producers with business plans.
Advocacy: This group focuses on monitoring and changing local and federal agricultural laws and regulations to benefit local and organic small- and mid-size farmers. Members can sign up for Action Alerts to stay up-to-date on policies and issues, and there is a contact sheet for local elected officials so that you can voice your opinion/support on policies.
Farm services and education: Classes, seminars and consulting services geared mainly for farmers and growers on the latest and best practices, food safety, GAP certification and transitioning to organic farming. There are occasional, local seasonal classes offered on gardening, keeping and soil preparation.
Membership and outreach: Anyone interested in small to mid-size farming, urban farming, or supporting local farms can join. Members receive information about classes and events, internships and farm jobs, referrals and more. Growing outreach programs include a farm-to-school project that matches farmers and students, and farmer’s potluck dinners where folks can share a meal of locally grown foods at area farms.
To join: See www.carolinafarmstewards.org.
The Charitable Plate
Farm to Table Event Company launched The Charitable Plate earlier this month as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit that will provide scholarships to fund the advancement and growth of future chefs, farmers, local food educators and entrepreneurs. A percentage of ticket sales to every Farm to Table Event Company event will go to the fund. Apply for funds or learn about making contributions at www.farmtotableeventco.com/thecharitableplate.
More ways to get involved
While the groups listed here are some of the big players, there are ways to get involved with food on a smaller scale, like volunteering at a food bank (Harvest Hope is one, www.harvesthope.org or joining one of the volunteer or crop programs at City Roots (www.cityroots.org).