When we spoke in mid-April, with opening day of Lowcountry Fresh Market and Café looming at some point in May, owners Andy and Cindy Rolfe were miles apart, but were as close as ever.
With buzzsaws and hammers very audible on the conference call, Andy was holding down the fort on the active construction site that would (cross fingers) be fully operational within a month. On the other line, Cindy was driving back from Georgia where she’d just wrapped up a meeting with a hog farmer.
“He’s a young farmer, and you always love to hear those two words together,” said Cindy.
The farmer in question, Roy Mosely, is a third-generation farmer who’s farming 35 acres in Portal, Ga., producing unique varieties of vegetables, wheat, rye, barley, corn and grain sorghum as well as cuts from the heritage pigs he breeds.
“I think the part that’s most delightful is the people in the younger generation who grew up with their grandparents farming… they have other jobs, but they’re doing farming on the side,” said Cindy.
Like so many of the younger generation, these farmers are approaching farming with a gig economy mindset, working the land as a side hustle. And like Uber and Airbnb, Lowcountry Fresh Market, based in Bluffton, is looking to disrupt the traditional markets by giving these part-time farmers a chance to earn money from their passion.
The market — which was scheduled to open at the end of May — and will be open seven days a week, will represent a unique opportunity for area shoppers to buy truly local produce, fresh-baked bread and sample the culinary vibrancy of the Lowcountry. Dine-in breakfast and lunch will be available as well as online and pickup options.
“We’re finding those individuals who understand how to develop and manage a farm, and manage what works,” she said. “They’re very nimble and responsive to farming. It has been eye opening… They’re pretty scrappy, these young farmers.”
Naturally, not all their farmer partners are part-timers. Many are working the land their families have worked for generations, and part of the impact Lowcountry Fresh Market will create comes from the venue they’ve provided for these local farmers. As such, it gives long-time farmers greater tools for keeping their land and newer farmers an opportunity to rediscover the family business.
That disruptor mindset extends to the building, itself, where Andy was dodging construction noise while installing the point-of-sale system. Coming from a manufacturing, distribution and strategic consulting background, Andy is taking a different look at the traditional market, finding smarter ways to manage inventory and maximize their offerings.
“I think it’s going to take us to a different level,” he said.
And like any disruptors, they’re gaining attention from a wide and receptive audience.
“We have people coming here from Houston, Baltimore, Alaska, California… it’s quite an array,” said Andy. “A lot of the culinary team heard about us through our Instagram or (Culinary Director) B.J. Dennis’ Instagram. They just reach out to us because they’re excited and it has been fun to see someone’s fresh ideas.”
Long-time locals may be reminded of a certain other Lowcountry endeavor that brought out the best and brightest from around the country. We refer, of course, to Charles Fraser and the small army of MBAs he amassed in getting Sea Pines up and running.
The Rolfes may not be aiming to reinvent the wheel the way Fraser did, but the fresh perspective they’re bringing to the market may just end up doing it anyway.
“There’s a level of excitement in doing something new,” said Andy. “For us, it’s a constant discovery of the community.”