Where to buy real food

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.

 

Restaurants

  • 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.

 

Stores

  • 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

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64 thoughts on “Where to buy real food”

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  1. Rhesa Williams

    I’m happy to have found your site and even happier to realize you’re in Charlotte! We’re just in the process of relocating to Charlotte and knowing of these farmer’s markets and restaurants is a great start!

  2. I’m the kind of girl that needs instructions and then follows them to the “T”. So I read the whole 100 days of real food book/cookbook and followed the eating plans and grocery list. We live in Winston-Salem, NC so we have access to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, the closest Earth Fare is 30 mins away in Greensboro, which isn’t bad at all, but as I’m traveling to do my food shopping at Earth Fare my husband asks why I don’t just go to Whole Foods…I didn’t have a good answer other than “That’s where Lisa shops!” lol. Do you find that there is a huge difference in the 2? I know Whole Foods can be pretty expensive but I’ve read your articles on what to buy at Whole Foods. But I was just curious if one was better than the other or more cost conscious than the other? Thanks in advance for the input! :)

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Jamie. There is not a big difference. Whole Foods, I feel, is a bit overwhelming but the products and costs at each are very similar. ;)

  3. Would love for you to give an updated list on some of your favorite restaurants in Charlotte that serve local and/or organic food. There have been lots of new restaurants since this blog post!

  4. I’m new to real food, but wanting to start! I live near Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Sprouts Farmer’s Market, and a Great Harvest Bread Company. Where should I shop for produce?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Well Haleigh, sounds like you have lots of good options. Our first stop for produce is our local farmer’s market to pick up fresh and seasonal items and then Whole Foods, Earth Fare or the like. :)

  5. I’m so glad I found this! I love your website and was hoping you’d have some Charlotte resources. We’re moving there next month and I’ve been fretting about leaving behind our beloved CSA and farmer’s markets. It looks like Charlotte has a great naturally-minded movement happening!

  6. I live in the Pacific NW. For veggies, grains, etc, I have found some of the Asian(Taiwanese/Chinese, Japanese or Korean) markets are good bets. Don’t know what the canned/frozen/dried stuff is, unless it has pictures or labels in English. I shop for fish & fruits & veggies there a lot, plus local goat, lamb or rabbit. Also, Indian/Middle Eastern markets markets tend to be very good for grains & beans. Typical upscale steaks/fancy roasts are not stocked in these stores. No temptations to blow the food budget!
    These markets also have very inexpensive household items like choppers, graters, sharpening stones, pots, racks & packaging/storage items… since their customers (usually lower income/large families) favor usefulness, not designer labels!

  7. I live in Arkansas and unfortunately the area I live in does not have really any whole foods stores. We have Walmart, Harps, Aldi & one small whole foods store that offers a few items at a high price. Can I find “real food” at stores like Walmart or Aldi? I would really like to take the real food challenge, but I’m not sure if I can because of the lack of availability in my area!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Emily. While it might be more of a challenge to find a big selection of whole foods, it is being done by many of our readers with limited access! Stores like Walmart are getting better about catering to pickier consumers and increasing their organic options. :) You might initially have to map out what is available at each grocery store, but it will eventually become routine when it comes time to do your shopping. Be sure to know what farmers and farmer’s markets are available in your area, as well. These links might help: http://www.eatwild.com and http://www.eatwellguide.org/i.php?pd=Home. Just do your best. It doesn’t have to be perfect. ~Amy

  8. His Lisa! My family lives in Chesapeake, VA and I was wondering if you knew if any of your followers had any suggestions for where to shop for groceries in the Hampton Roads area. Thanks for all you do!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Julie. I’ll leave that one for readers to respond to. Unfortunately, I’m not at all familiar with the area. Readers? :)
      ~Amy

  9. Amy Vander Linden

    What do you guys think of Trader Joe’s? They are really committed to avoiding artificial flavors and preservatives. They also don’t sell any dairy or meat with hormones.

  10. I just found this post and I wanted to thank you for sharing! This is really helpful! I’ve been a bit disappointed in our nearest farmers market in the Chicago suburbs, but due to a job change, it looks like my family will be moving to the Charlotte area in the next couple months. I can’t wait to check out some growers markets in and around Charlotte!

  11. Candice Bendorf

    Hi! I live in the Charlotte area and was curious where you buy your local strawberries when they are in season? I really want to stock up on making jam when they come in season however haven’t really been able to locate a farm that is organic or does not use pesticides. I know it is a difficult to grow strawberries. Your advice is much appreciated!

    1. I believe I found both organic and local strawberries at Earth Fare last year (I hope I am not getting them confused with where we found peaches). Be sure to call ahead before you go out to pick some up. They’ll let you know if they have some! :)

  12. Hi from a growing love of your site from far away – There are so many of us trying to adopt the real food life, military stationed overseas. Many times we are stuck with only 1 grocery store – the commissary and to say it mildly it sucks! Maybe if we are really lucky 10% organic – I live in Italy and there are a few of us on our base in northern Italy who follow you – can you PRETTY PLEASE post some sites to order strictly on line – it would help us military families so much – THANK YOU!!!!!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Nonnie. Oh my goodness, some of the best fruit stands and farmer’s markets I’ve ever seen were in Italy. Although I did see an old Italian lady smack a woman’s hand for touching her fruit. :) Do you not have great access to groceries outside of the base? We can order just about anything here in the US through Amazon but it does not look like they offer grocery shipping overseas. Everything else I’ve seen has very high shipping costs and makes ordering seem somewhat prohibitive. Could you work with the military folks in order to get better access to good quality foods and ingredients? I truly have no idea how this works but I want to help. ~Amy

  13. I’m very glad I stumbled across this site, especially since I am in SW Charlotte (Steele Creek). You have a lot of wonderful information! I noticed that you don’t mention Trader Joe’s in your list of stores. While I know that there are products to avoid there, I do think that one could make budget friendly choices there while still keeping it real. Thoughts?

    1. After spending some time on the site I believe I have found the answer to my question. You do have TJ items listed. I have never been to Earth Fare, but I am pleased to see there is one in Ballantyne!

  14. As far as restaurants go, I wild also highly recommend Passion8 Bistro in Very near to Charlotte Fort Mill, SC.
    Hole in the wall, whee am I going exterior in an industrial area, however tHey support over 20 local farms, and the food is amazing! Highly recommended. http://www.passion8bistro.com

  15. Does anyone buy organic chicken breast online in bulk? I am looking for an online service where I can buy my chicken breast without going to the store for Smart Chicken a couple of times weekly. Thanks

  16. May I ask why the preference to Earth Fare over Whole Foods? Is it simply that it’s a more convenient trip for you than Whole Foods, or are there other reasons? I ask because Whole Foods has been my go-to place for years, but an Earth Fare just recently opened up near by us as well.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Lori. It’s only because we just got a Whole Foods at the end of August. I actually shop at both now…some prices are cheaper at one over the other, just depends on what it is. Jill

  17. Have you tried The Healthy Home Market? They have locations in Davidson, SouthEnd and on Independence Blvd. It is by far my favorite grocery store in Charlotte, particularly because of their abundance of bulk food and spices. You should check it out! I just stumbled upon your blog from Pinterest, and I’m really enjoying reading your posts. Even happier to hear that you are local!

    1. Jamie – I have been to their location on Independence. So glad to have a store like that on this side of town (although it’s not quite big enough for my full weekly shopping…just if we need a few things). So glad you are enjoying the blog! :)

  18. I am so excited about this post. We are moving not too far from you (Marvin) in June. I keep saying that once we move, we are really going to focus on only eating real food. Now I don’t have to search for where to go!

  19. I live in Mint Hill and tried to get on the delivery schedule for Lakeview Farms, but they don’t have enough people in my area to start a route. Is there anyone else interested in Mint Hill?

  20. I just saw your post about the challenge on a budget. The only thing is your budget is way over what ours can be. Yours comes out to be $500 per month for a family of four. Mine is resting at $300 for a family of four. Is it really possible to buy locally on a $300 per month food budget?

  21. I was looking up the local farmers and farmers markets in my area and I had a $$$ question. When you buy locally how much more expensive is it? We’re on a pretty tight budget and I want to have good organic whole foods but can’t afford to pay an arm and a leg at at a farmers market etc. What do you suggest for people on a budget who want to eat locally? What’s your budget like?

    Thanks

  22. I want to start this challenge SO bad but “real” food is so hard to find in our town. We have Wal-Mart, Publix, which has somewhat of a good selection, and Winn Dixie. At least we have a farmers market I guess? The closest Earth Fare is 2 hours away, but I’m tempted to drive that far.. lol.

  23. I am really new to this blog and am loving it. I would love to try the 10 day challenge but am finding few tips on eating out. I travel 4-5 days a week and eat out every day. My travel takes me all over the midwest, I try to find places that buy locally but sometimes can’t. Any advice for “chain” restaurants?

  24. How do you find stores that offer locally grown items. All I really know of around here are chains. There are local places, but the ones I have been to don’t seem to advertise, local or organic or natural…

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I start with the farmer’s markets and ask what restaurants/stores they supply in the area.

  25. Lisa, I just got my 1st milk delivery from Lakeview Farms. It is in the Homestead Creamery bottles which I have also picked up from Earth Fare. Is it the same milk? Can I just buy from Earth Fare or is it much more fresh when you get it delivered?

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      They just changed their source for milk the week that you started! It killed me to do it, but I had to cancel my service since I can get Homestead milk from Earth Fare for cheaper! I would love to continue supporting Lakeview, but I cannot justify spending more for the same thing.

  26. Have you tried making your own honey whole wheat bread? We don’t have a Great Harvest Bread near us (that’s one thing I miss from living in Northern Virginia) so I’ve come up with my own recipes after starting out with recipes for white bread. As a plus, it’s totally doable to start a loaf when you get home from work around 5pm and have it out of the oven by 10pm…sooner if you use quick-rise yeast! And now it’s time to shape today’s bread into a loaf for its 2nd rise. :o)

  27. I have, perhaps, the dumbest question in the world. We have been getting deliveries from Lakeview for a few months and LOVE the milk!! The only problem is that we battle, I mean BATTLE, with the lids on the glass bottles. Have you had any issues with this?

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Your question is cracking me up! I do sometimes struggle with them (although I don’t think I would call it a BATTLE – LOL), but are you talking about when you first open the bottle or with ongoing use? When I am first opening them I am having to use scissors most of the time to start the tear and that seems to work great.

  28. Hall Family Farm is must for PYO strawberries. Located in south Charlotte, their strawberries are heavenly. I put up about 5 batches of jam and we just finished our last jar. Can’t wait for strawberry season to start again in April.

    http://www.hallfamilyfarm.com/

    Located about 45 minutes from South CLT is another great PYO place – Black’s Peaches. I took the kids 3 times last summer, twice to pick peaches and once to pick blackberries. They have a wonderful store with already picked fruit and local veggies. Defintely worth the drive!
    http://www.blackspeachesandbakery.com/

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Thanks for the reminder about the off-season places! We’ve actually been to Hall Family Farm, but my only complaint is that there berries aren’t organic. I am not sure about Black’s peaches though. We will have to check them out!

  29. I’m curious as to whether you have visited the butcher shop What’s Your Beef? They are located across from Ballantyne Resort. Any reviews on that place?

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I have not been there, but I have heard of it. The first thing I would ask them is how many of their offerings are local! And also whether the farms they use are hormone and antibiotic free and grass-fed. I will have to check it out next time I am over that way.

  30. Since you are such an EF aficionado you probably already know about their new program, but just in case, they have a new program called Welcome Home where they give a freebie each week. If you sign up for the specials now you get a coupon for a free chicken dinner (16oz mashed potatoes from deli, 16oz bag of organic carrots and fresh whole chicken) with $10 purchase. It’s on their website under the Welcome Home tab. Awesome deal, and I’m excited about future freebies!

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Oh I am all over Earth Fare’s free chicken and other goodies! I have my coupon ready to go and will pick it up tomorrow. I am also wondering if it is against “the rules” for my husband to sign up for their website and get some free dinner for us too?!? It says one coupon per person (not per family) so why not? :)

      1. Oh…I am so happy to hear you ask that b/c I already told my husband that he should sign up next week so we can get another one. I hope that doesn’t make either of us bad! :)

  31. I am glad you included a list of places to eat. I have no problem finding local foods to buy and cook/eat at home, but sometimes I just want to have someone else cook for me and it is nice to see this list!

  32. I was checking out EarthFare’s website (wish they were local) and noticed that they had a “boot list”. It is a list of all the things that are banned from their store. Have you looked at it? What are you thoughts on it? It seems that they have a lot of stuff on there that still shouldn’t be eaten. We don’t have any stores like that so it is hard finding foods without some of these things. I’d like to find a huge list of things to avoid with all of their different names.

    Here is the link to their boot list: http://www.earthfare.com/FoodPhilosophy/~/media/Files/Banned%20List%202010%20alphabetical.pdf

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Even as much as I love Earth Fare I still read every single ingredient label and make my own personal decision on what to buy from their store. They say they read the labels so you don’t have to and while their products are a big improvement from the standard grocery store there are still things I would not eat from there (like products made with refined grains, sugar..even if they are “organic”). You should make your own “boot” list for yourself…stick it to your fridge and follow it! On your list you could pledge to avoid ingredients that you can’t pronounce and it would cover most of what’s on their boot list and even more! :)

  33. Thank you so much for all your insite and information. I have enjoyed your blog and learned a great deal.
    Would you suggest visitng Lakeview Farms prior to ordering? I live in the Ballantyne area and have made a lot of changes over the past year but have not tried the milk. They were a vendor at the Y last year and I was very impressed, I just am confused with where to start and how much to order.
    Any thoughts?
    Thanks again, your information has been invaluable to me and I’m sure many others.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Hi there! Lakeview Farms gets their milk from a farm in South Carolina and while they welcome visitors it is a little bit of a drive for me so I have not made the trip myself. Just the fact that they welcome visitors is a good sign though. The milk is at it’s peak freshness for around 7 days so for your first order (which can be placed on their website) just get how much your family would go through in a week. We just put a big cooler on our front porch and that is where they leave it along with an order form for the following week. And don’t forget to put the empty bottles out there (the next time) to get your bottle deposit back. You could also call them first to find out what day they deliver to your area. They always come very early in the morning even before we get my daughter up for school which is at 6 A.M. Good luck!