Catching up with Jamee Haley, of Lowcountry Local First

My new BuyLocal card

When their oldest child was six months old, Jamee Haley moved to Dewees Island with her husband Jim, who was then Island Manager.  At that time, the island manager lived on the island, in the house that is now owned by Henry and Kathleen.  Fast-forward fourteen years, and Jamee is a major driving force behind the successful and influential Lowcountry Local First, a local non-profit organization committed to “educating and encouraging the public to invest in their local economy with their dollars, their voices, their votes and their hearts.”

I asked Jamee to meet me for coffee at the Old Village Bakery so I could learn more about Lowcountry Local First and her experiences on the island. I hadn’t realized that Jamee was in charge of the hospitality service on the island: from managing rental homes to the suites, and she and I shared some common experiences about educating renters about what to expect from this unique island before they get here.  I am sure her warm enthusiasm made many an island guest feel right at home.  (In fact, if you have a story to share, feel free to do so by commenting on this post!)

After leaving Dewees, Jamee and Jim lived in Jacksonville for a while before returning to Charleston County.  When a group of local businessfolks and activists began kicking around ideas for ways to encourage people to shop and support local farms and businesses, Jamee was intrigued and came on board.  For two years, Jamee worked without pay, building traction and growing the Lowcountry Local brand.  They now have several employees, 500 business members, and major campaigns of Buy Local and Eat Local. Individuals can get a Buy Local card, which replaces all sorts of coupons and provides the user with discounts at all local stores.  I got mine for $20.00 at Country Bumpkin, my favorite local craft store.  Then I could use it for 10% off my total bill.  You can also get a list of local merchants and businesses that participate.  Businesses can join, so long as they meet certain criteria for being local, and they can then be listed as a local business on the website and in the Lowcountry Local First directory.

Jamee filled me in on some recent initiatives.  The Mom-and-pop-up shop provided King Street Space for local merchants who could not otherwise afford the overhead in that great shopping district and gave them a presence for the holiday season.

Eat Local is a

sustainable agricultural initiative designed to grow and support local food systems by connecting local farms, producers, and apprentices to the local restaurants, institutions, and people with a hunger for farm fresh food and goods. Through a variety of education, outreach and apprentice programs, we’re working to get good people to good food and ensure that our agrarian culture continues to be an integral part of the Lowcountry economy and way of life. (from Lowcountry Local First)

When I first moved to the lowcountry, there were NO local farm shares, or CSA’s to join.  Now there are many, but Jamee is worried that an aging population of farmers and market pressures against farms will put even more out of business.  The number of Charleston area farms has decreased by 20% over the last four years, despite an ever-increasing preference for fresh, locally farmed food.  So LLF has created some fascinating partnerships to encourage the next generation of farmers: Internships where apprentices can take 8 weeks of classes in sustainable agriculture and partner with Clemson as part of their farm entrepreneur programs.  Next year they will be opening a farm incubator on Clemson property on Highway 17, offering an entry point for new farmers to use 1-2 acres, share equipment and expertise, and build a market for their products.  Then they will help them find available land and move onward and upward.  This is the first program of its kind in South Carolina.  I can’t wait to see more of what they are doing!

I asked Jamee to reflect on any connections exist between her time on Dewees and what she is doing now.  Her enthusiasm for both endeavors is visibly apparent.  “For me, the connection is all about preservation,” she said.  “On Dewees, it is preservation of the environment and a way of life that connects neighbors to each other and the land around them.  Lowcountry Local First is also about preservation: preservation of local businesses, family farms, a sense of place and all the things that make Charleston a unique, special place to live. It’s those things that make us #1 on Conde Nast’s list, and those things that need to be preserved and protected.”

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