City Roots & The Benefits of Farm to Table

City Roots & The Benefits of Farm to Table

By Sheryl McAlister
Sheryl McAlister is a freelance writer and a graduate of The Culinary & Wine Institute at the University of South Carolina.

It was July of 1985, and my grandfather had just died. My second thought after my initial shock was “Wow, we’ll never have good tomatoes again.”

I was 24 years old. I knew better, of course.

But my grandfather, who was a builder for many decades in South Carolina, had also been a farmer in another life. And his passion for growing things that went from his garden to my grandmother’s table was almost as strong as his love for my grandmother.

So the feeling I had when I visited City Roots was at first awe and then admiration. Nestled near the soccer fields, alongside a quiet residential section of town and across the road from airplane hangars that had seen better days is a three-acre facility that has moved Columbia, SC, quickly into the farm-to-table obsession.

A quick tour of the place has the owner, Robbie McClam, spreading the gospel of Alice Waters, the mother of the modern-day movement. McClam didn’t invent the idea, but he had the vision to bring the sustainable, eco-friendly farm to a community that has embraced both the concept and its offerings.

According to its website, City Roots ( has plenty to boast about: vegetable fields, flowers, honey bees, greenhouses, free-range chickens, herbs, perennials, micro-greens, compost, fish, vermi-compost (I had to look that one up.) and local tourism. The site lists dozens of restaurants around South Carolina which purchase City Roots products to create fresh and creative dishes and many recipes that use the products grown just miles from dining room tables.

The idea of farm to table is hardly a new one. It’s been around for centuries. But the recent explosion in the US could well have been the result of an economic downturn that found people looking for new or better ways to cut costs at the grocery store and an obesity epidemic which was spreading out of control.

Buying locally grown products contributes to the health and well-being of an individual consumer or family as well as a community. And ultimately, it contributes to the overall economic health and well-being of a community and region.

In an article written by Tiff Coe, an eHow ( contributor, Coe writes that “…not only does seasonal produce provide a connection with the community but it can also offer a higher concentration of nutrients compared to the same products that might have to travel for days and miles. In general, the quicker the food arrives on one’s dinner plate, the more nutrients it retains.”

Coe continues that “…the food industry consumes great amounts of fossil fuels in both producing and shipping items, and considerable pollution is generated by factories and other sources. The farm to table movement does its part by ensuring that food stays in the area in which it was grown or made. And by cutting out the middlemen, restaurants are more likely to be able to pay farmers a fair wage.”

Buying produce from a local farmer’s market or from City Roots… buying shrimp from South Carolina shrimpers ( and not the frozen imposter imported from Thailand…. These are all ways to support and help sustain a local community and provide food that is fresh, culturally rich and delicious.

McClam, while searching for his next career move, seems not only to have found what he was looking for, but he’s also created something special in and for the city of Columbia. Originally from Lake City, SC, McClam was an architect and a builder in a former life. He followed a passion for farming into what will likely be his final career move.

My grandfather, who was also from Lake City, would have loved his style.

Copyright 2014 Sheryl McAlister

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