One of the reasons I started this blog about our real food journey was to share with others all the invaluable information I’ve learned from hours and hours of research. Just one year ago I had never even been to a farmer’s market before, much less did I know there were actually different types of farmer’s markets. Sadly enough I had also never read an ingredients label or ever thought to ask a restaurant what exactly was in the food they were serving me (or where it came from for that matter). Before we changed our diets at the beginning of last year, it is safe to say that I knew very little about eating real food. Once I started to figure everything out from what crackers to buy to where to get the freshest milk, why would I keep all of that good information to myself?
So in addition to all of the recipes, tips, and personal experiences I’ve shared thus far, this post is all about the specific stores, farms, and restaurants that we love the most (all of which we’ve tried personally). Now of course these places are in the Charlotte area, but a few can be accessed in other locations as well (denoted by asterisk). If you have any favorites that I left off this list please tell us why you love them in the comments section below!
Farms / Farmer’s Markets
- Matthews Farmer’s Market (pictured during a community dinner to the right) – This one is a grower’s only market, which in my opinion is the best kind. Some of the year-round vendors there that we frequent the most include Grateful Growers (pork / sausage / bacon), Bosky Acres (goat cheese / feta cheese), New Town Farms (seasonal certified organic produce), and Tega Hills Farm (the freshest lettuce you will ever eat).
- Lakeview Farms – This is where we get our much talked about milk that we love. It is delivered to our house and said to be 2-days from the cow. It tastes so fresh that we are now officially spoiled and can hardly stand to drink the standard grocery store milk anymore (even if it is organic). This was the most expensive item we kept during our “100 Days of Real Food on a Budget” pledge, and I did everything in my power to make sure we didn’t have to give it up!
- Atherton Farmer’s Market – This one is also a grower’s only market, and it is open more often than the Matthews one. Unfortunately it is a lot further from us so we don’t frequent it very much. The items I am most excited about at this market are what I cannot find at the Matthews Farmer’s Market and include local lamb and local seafood.
- Poplar Ridge Farm (pictured at top of blog) – This is the farm where we had our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) membership last summer. While lots of local farms follow organic practices this is one of the few farms in the area that are actually USDA certified organic. We started off with a half share last year, which meant we got a box of fresh farm-selected produce every other week. We really enjoyed sampling so many different varieties of fresh local produce, although I do admit we struggled when we were given a lot of greens! We are just not a big fan of greens, and I hate to waste food.
I am purposely not mentioning the Charlotte Regional Farmer’s Market because it is not a grower’s only market. While they have plenty of farmers selling locally grown/raised food they also have plenty of 3rd party vendors selling things like berries from South America. I can get that kind of stuff at any regular grocery store.
- Harvest Moon Grill – A new restaurant that is owned by a local farm and amazingly uses up to 90 – 95% local foods. While all the restaurants on this list feature locally grown/raised items, when it comes to the quantity of items that are local this one blows the rest out of the water. It is connected to the Dunhill Hotel in downtown.
- Harvest Moon Grill Food Cart – A much more casual lunch cart that features just as much local food as the restaurant bearing the same name. It can be found at various locations downtown, and if you get on their email distribution list you will be notified of the upcoming week’s location, hours, and menu.
- Halcyon – Located at the front of the new Mint Museum of Art. They have an excellent Sunday Brunch.
- Luna’s Living Kitchen – They are located in the Dilworth area right next door to the Atherton Market. Their veggie burger is our favorite, and this is also where we first learned about banana ice cream.
- Community Café – A casual café located inside the newly renovated Discovery Place museum.
- Santé – Located in Matthews right across the street from the Farmer’s Market. They utilize the market for as many fresh ingredients as possible, and they also have their own garden. If the weather is nice ask to sit on the patio out back!
- Upstream – Also located in the South Park area. They have been a favorite of ours for many years and specialize in seafood.
- Rooster’s – Again located in South Park, but they probably have more of a focus on local foods than the previous two options in that part of town.
- Earth Fare* – Don’t I already talk about Earth Fare enough? And no, they don’t give me money under the table for all of the compliments. I truly just love their store for the biggest variety of fresh organic produce, some locally raised meat/seafood offerings, and the most whole-grain choices I could find anywhere in town (other than my own kitchen)!
- Hillbilly Produce – Hillbilly Produce is similar to a Farmer’s Market except they are indoors and open every day of the week. In addition to a wide variety of locally grown produce they also offer locally raised meat from both Grateful Grower’s and Baucom’s Best. So if you are near the store, which is just south of downtown Charlotte, it is definitely worth the stop!
- Great Harvest Bread Company* – They grind their own wheat every morning to make the yummiest honey whole-wheat bread in town. I am embarrassed to say that just over a year ago I was eating white sandwich bread from the grocery store. The problem was that I didn’t think I liked “wheat bread” …that is until I tried this loaf from Great Harvest. You can also special order hamburger buns to be made out of the same recipe, and their breads hold up beautifully in the freezer.
*Locations outside of Charlotte