The sun is setting behind New Belgium Brewing as ASAP’s Local Food Experience comes to a close. The event celebrated food grown and raised in the Southern Appalachian mountains, and featured collaborations between local farmers and chefs.
Inside the brewery, the crowd finished their small plates and drinks. Outside, ASAP’s community storybooth welcomed one last family: Stephen McCrae and Judi McCrae from Greenville, SC.
Their six-month-old daughter Sloan is with them tonight. If Stephen and Judi are interacting with local food, Sloan is usually along for the ride. She often goes with them to work at Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery in Greenville, South Carolina.
In addition to a grocery store and cafe, Swamp Rabbit is also a food hub that distributes wholesale produce and meat to regional restaurants. Stephen works in the food hub and Judi is the chef and kitchen manager, so they’re immersed in the nuances of local food. But farm-fresh food wasn’t always on Stephen’s radar.
“I did not grow up around agriculture,” he says. “I grew up in Tampa, which is kind of like a melting pot, mainly around sports. I didn’t even think about where my food came from. It’s kind of like it’s just from the grocery store. I mean, obviously it comes from farms, but your attachment to it is just like, oh, Publix or Winn-Dixie. And that was about it.
His father’s health prompted him to look more closely at the source of their food.
“A couple of years ago, my father had high blood pressure. They were getting ready to put him on medication. I had heard about some of these documentaries, like Forks Over Knives and Food Inc. It really made you conscious about where you’re getting your food. And so I started looking into it more and he ended up not having to go on medication. He was able to do it just through diet and his food.”
Soon, Stephen started considering a career in local food.
“I’d always gone around not knowing what I wanted to do, but kind of landed on food and got an internship at a local farm near where my parents live in Greenville. And then shortly after that, that’s how I met my wife and started working at Swamp. It’s a joy to enjoy what you’re doing and have passion about it. It’s kind of been contagious,” he says.
Health was also a factor in Judi’s appreciation for local food.
“I think it came about in my early teens when health became more of an issue for me, so I had to really change my diet,” she says. “I started by changing it to being organic, and then as I dove into it, I started eating just seasonally and that was great. I started learning more and more about local food and how important it is for us to eat and nurture our bodies. I get so much more nutrition when I eat something that’s grown really close to me and it just kind of clicked that this is so much better for me.”
Local food is also a way for Judi and her family to celebrate the seasons.
“It’s also fun to just wait and not to eat strawberries until it’s strawberry season,” she says. “Then you just stuff your face full of strawberries when it’s the season.”
Sloan isn’t eating solid foods yet, but Stephen and Judi can’t wait for her to taste new fruits and vegetables as the seasons unfold. They’re starting to think about her first bite, which might be sweet potatoes or possibly pears from Stephen’s parents’ pear tree.
“I want her to be open to trying almost anything. I think that’s important,” Judi says, adding that Sloan will definitely be eating seasonally.
The family has big plans for the future. They own property in Traveler’s Rest and plan to start a small vegetable production farm there. They hope Sloan will be involved, and that it will help her love local food every day.
Aired: December 16, 2019