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Programs aim to increase appetite for locally made food: Some say cost is a factor in supporting local farmers

By Sam Boykin

When musician Jack Johnson rolls into town Sunday for his concert at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, he’ll be urging his fans to support family farmers and to eat locally grown food. While a lofty goal that would benefit the Charlotte metro area’s economy and health, it’s also easier said than done.

Today, when many folks are strapped for cash and time, it can be tempting to swing into the nearest fast-food drive-in and get dinner for a couple of bucks. But there are a growing number of Charlotte restaurants, farmers markets and organizations trying to make eating healthier easier — although some lament that at times it can be cost-prohibitive to put local items on their menu.

“Unfortunately, I can’t find a lot of local meat products that I can affordably put on my menu,” said Bruce Moffett, owner and chef of Barrington’s restaurant. Moffett uses fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables at the Charlotte restaurant, “but you have to walk that fine line between running a business and putting a roof over your family’s head and supporting local farmers.”

To help spread his “eat local” message during his 31-city tour, Johnson partnered with the Eat Well Guide, a New York-based nonprofit and online directory for anyone in search of fresh, locally grown and organic food in the United States. The Eat Well Guide has put together guides for dozens of U.S. cities, including Charlotte.

Destin Joy Layne, director of the Eat Well Guide, said part of the nonprofit’s mission is to bring fresh, locally grown foods to a great number of communities. But it’s not an east task, she said.

“It’s a challenge reconnecting people, families and communities with food and making it a priority,” she said. “It’s hard when people are just trying to pay their bills and survive.”

Improving public access to locally grown fruits and vegetables is one key to changing and improving how people eat, said Christy Shi. Shi, 36, and her brother, Wes, 33, own and operate Know Your Farms, a Davidson-based corporation that provides individuals and families with access to locally produced food year-round.

The Shi siblings launched Know Your Farms in 2008 and started with the Local Food Club. Under that program, members pay a monthly membership fee of $20, plus whatever food costs, and place orders from about two dozen participating farms. The food is collected from the farms and dropped at central distribution locations for members to pick up.

‘We’re evolving’

Christy Shi said about 100 families participate in the program, but as farmers markets have become more prevalent, demand has waned. “It takes a very dedicated person to do that, and it’s not necessarily sustainable,” she said. “We still offer that service, but we’re evolving into other things.”

A few months ago, the Shi siblings launched the Workplace Wellness Program, in which a company’s employees sign up for the service and each week Know Your Farms delivers to the workplace fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheese and bread. The program costs $30 to $50 a week, depending on the options selected, and each delivery contains 40 to 60 servings. Christy Shi said the selection is somewhat limited, as participants are only getting what’s coming out the fields that day, which is dictated by the seasons.

“People are willing to pay for convenience, and we’re still able to pay the farmers top dollar for the products,” she said.

About half a dozen companies have signed up for the service, including Ingersoll Rand in Davidson and the Compass Group in Charlotte, she said.

The company is going to continue focus on growing the Workplace Wellness Program, but they continue to run up against obstacles, she said. “It’s been hard getting started. The biggest challenge is that people have forgotten how to cook and are so used to prepackaged, processed food. At Ingersoll Rand we had someone tell us it was the first time they’d ever had a cantaloupe. So we’re really trying to change the way people think about food.”

Tommy Barbee is one of the farmers who works with Know Your Farms. His family has been farming the same land in Concord for five generations. He has about 70 acres, nearly half of which is dedicated to fruits and vegetables.

Barbee said he sells the majority of his produce at local farmers markets, and he has his own vegetable stand at his farm. He also sells directly to a couple of restaurants, including the Speedway Club and Cabarrus Country Club, both in Concord, as well as the Galway Hooker, an Irish pub and restaurant in Cornelius.

“It takes a special chef to work with a local farm,” Barbee said. “They have to be willing to adjust the menu seasonally. And we can’t compete with the factory farms as far as prices. But we don’t care to. We’re not mass producers. We produce quality products at a price that makes it sustainable for our customers and allows us to make a living. And I think more people are starting to pay attention to where their food comes from.”

Changing the menu

So does Bradley Labarre, the new chef at the Galway Hooker. Prior to the pub, Labarre was the chef at Cabarrus Country Club and worked with local farmers, including Barbee, to integrate as much fresh, local produce into his menu as possible.

He said he plans to do the same thing at the Galway Hooker, where he started in June. Labarre said he’s in the process changing the menu and hopes to get at least 80 percent of his items—including sausage, eggs, vegetables, chicken and fruit—from local farmers.

But Labaree added that although this is his goal, in some cases the bottom line may get in the way, especially when he has to buy large quantities of any one item. “Sometimes, yes, I will use big commercial producers. I would love to go 100 percent local, but we’d lose money. But if you structure your menu correctly and use your imagination, it’s possible to use a lot of local products. And I say the more the better; the shelf life is longer, and it just tastes so much better.”

Jim Noble, owner and executive chef at Noble’s Restaurant, has a similar philosophy. Noble said at his Charlotte business he gets about 50 percent of his produce from local farmers. He also gets the majority of his fish and chicken from local sources. “It’s more expensive, but the difference in quality is worth it,” he said.

Noble said that when he first got into the restaurant business, he started his own organic garden and even raised sheep and chickens. “But then I realized I need to focus on the restaurant and let the farmers do that.”

Moffett said he gets about 70 percent of his fruits and vegetables from local farmers.  And while buying local produce means he has to charge his customers a little more, he said he hasn’t heard any complaints. “It’s more expensive, but it’s worth it,” he said. “It gives people a sense of community. A lot of my customers know the farmers. I see them at the farmers markets. They love that they can come in order what was picked out of a garden that day, even it does cost a little more.”

Sam Boykin can be reached at [email protected].

Local flavor

The Eat Well Guide, a New York-based nonprofit and online directory of fresh, locally grown and organic food in the U.S., includes the following Charlotte-area restaurants, grocery stores and farmers markets on its list.


Sonoma Modern American

100 N. Tryon St.

Charlotte, NC 28202


7822 Fairview Road

Charlotte, NC 28226

Chipotle Mexican Grill

2921 Providence Road, Suite 100

Charlotte, NC 28211

Chipotle Mexican Grill

1909 Matthews Township Parkway

Matthew, NC 28105

Chipotle Mexican Grill

2109 South Blvd.

Charlotte, NC 28203

Gallery Restaurant

10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway

Charlotte, NC 28277

Noble’s Restaurant

6801 Morrison Blvd.

Charlotte, NC 28211

Pewter Rose Bistro

1820 South Blvd.

Charlotte, NC 28203

T1 Tapas

8625-c Lindholm Drive

Huntersville, NC 28078

Grocery stores

Berrybrook Farm Natural Foods Pantry

1257 East Blvd.

Charlotte, NC 28203

Earth Fare

12235 North Community House Road

Charlotte, NC 28277

Home Economist

2707 South Blvd.

Charlotte, NC 28209

Home Economist

5410 E. Independence Blvd.

Charlotte, NC 28212

Home Economist

261 Griffith St.

Davidson, NC 28036

Trader Joe’s

1133 Metropolitan Ave.

Charlotte, NC 28204

Trader Joe’s

1820 East Arbors Drive

Charlotte, NC 28262

Trader Joe’s

6418 Rea Road

Charlotte, NC 28277

Farmers markets

Matthews Community Farmers Market

188 N. Trade Street

Matthews, NC 28105

Charlotte Regional Farmers Market

1801 Yorkmont Road

Charlotte, NC 28266

Charlotte Tailgate Farmers Market

1709 Springdale Ave.

Charlotte, NC 28203

Davidson Farmers Market

Next to Davidson Town Hall

Davidson, NC 28036

Mint Hill Farmers Market

7601 Matthews Mint Hill Road

Mint Hill, NC 28227

Mt. Holly Farmers Market

130 S. Main St.

Mt. Holly, NC 28120

North Mecklenburg Farmers Market

700 N. Tryon St.

Charlotte, NC 28202

Piedmont Farmers Market

715 Cabarrus Ave.

Concord, NC 28027

Town of Huntersville Main & Maxwell Farmers Market

103 Maxwell St.

Huntersville, NC 28078

One comment

  1. As with anything, the devil is in the details. While many of the locations above *do* carry locally-produced food, it takes making a conscious effort to ask about each product. Even going to farmers’ markets is not a guarantee that the food has been grown by the person selling it. So if you want to buy local, start with the list above. And when you get there, ask a lot of questions about where things are from.

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