by Stephanie Campbell, CFSA’s Outreach Coordinatorgive-swamp-rabbit-eoy-2016

Consumers (a.k.a. “eaters”) often share that they are confused by labels and terms like natural, cage-free, or grass-fed. They ask how their produce, dairy and meat was grown or raised.  And they want their food dollars to support local farmers and producers and their local community.

Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery, in Greenville, SC, is filling the gap in the food chain between eaters and farmers who share common values: local, sustainable, organic, healthy, humane, and community.

Imagine a community gathering place where virtually all of the products are grown or produced within 150 miles. A place where the owners know by name and face the over 200 farmers and vendors. A place where farmers and producers and eaters are neighbors and friends. A place that in five short years is transforming the community and sparking a food revolution.

Mary Walsh and Jacqueline Oliver, co-founders and owners of Swamp Rabbit, imagined such a place and had the grit to make it a reality. It’s not easy to manage up to twenty different deliveries each day, and the individualized billing that goes along with these, instead of one big general food truck. It’s not easy managing several thousand unique products and providing signage so that customers can know which farmer or artisan grew or produced it. It’s not easy competing with the convenience, discount prices, and always-available products of the big box stores.

Mary and Jacqueline have often worked eighty-hour weeks with their children in tow because they believe in their mission and in the intangible benefits of bringing a community together around food. “We have been delightfully surprised,” says Mary, “at the scale of which the community has supported us and how loyal our customers are.”

Mary shares stories of customers volunteering to help during their events and expansion, customers donating furniture and bike racks and other items, customers who stick with them through the growing pains of a small, local business.


Swamp Rabbit is more than just a store; it is a force for building relationships and educating people about food. Customers have learned what seasonal eating really means when there are no local eggs available because the chickens are molting. Customers experience along with their farmer the heartache when a predator ate a whole flock of Thanksgiving turkeys. Customers learn what it really costs a farmer to produce a product using the organic and sustainable practices they value.

“CFSA has built a network of resources and people in the Carolinas committed to a shared vision which has been invaluable to us,” Mary shares.

Stephen Nix, CFSA South Carolina Food Systems Coordinator, has been one of those customers and friends since the very beginning of the store. His roles as friend (building and stocking shelves when the store opened) and as CFSA staff (researching Point of Sale (POS) systems and providing marketing connections) have overlapped, like that of so many others in the Swamp Rabbit community. “CFSA has built a network of resources and people in the Carolinas committed to a shared vision which has been invaluable to us,” Mary shares.

Now beginning its sixth year, the store employs thirty-one people in the bakery, café, and grocery and serves more than 20,000 customers. Swamp Rabbit has helped revitalize the immediate area along the Swamp Rabbit Trail and the store is inspiring other businesses to adopt a local food mindset. The Greenville Small Business Development Center awarded Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery their Small Business of the Year Award in 2016. EBT/SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) sales are increasing as they intentionally reach out to make healthy food available to the low income neighborhood around them.

The store has expanded twice already, once to add a refrigerated produce room and then to add overflow seating and a bakery kitchen. A big expansion planned for 2017, partially funded by a $100,000 grant from the USDA, will double the store in size and increase the capacity to buy, store, process, promote and sell foods in the Upstate.

Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery is a model of the kind of links in the food system we need more of in the Carolinas.

Visionaries like Mary Walsh and Jacqueline Oliver can’t do it without you.
Your gift today help CFSA continue to build the network necessary to create the vibrant, sustainable, regional food system we need in the Carolinas.


Please give generously.