The executive director of Lowcountry Local First enjoys a springtime bounty at home
(Left) Crostini with shredded fresh carrots and Burden Creek goat cheese; (Right) Jamee Haley, Executive Director of Lowcountry Local First
Spend enough time with Jamee Haley, Lowcountry Local First’s (LLF) executive director, and she’s going to eventually offer you food. Whether that be a snack of hummus and veggies or a full fledged invite to dinner, “food is absolutely my way of showing I care,” she says. Through this spirit of hospitality, Haley has become an instrumental figure, advocating for the region’s rich foodways.To her, homegrown, independent businesses constitute the vital community she calls home.
Haley has been working with LLF—a nonprofit that helps to cultivate economy by strengthening and promoting locally owned companies—since 2006, and she is now so ingrained in the fabric of Charleston that it is hard to imagine she didn’t always live here.
After growing up in Oklahoma, Haley spent time abroad before settling in Nantucket for three years. Her first experiences working in the restaurant industry exposed her to complex flavors and awakened her creative, culinary sensibilities. “Winters in Nantucket, there was no work,” she recalls. “So I cooked! I loved learning about new food and wine. I would take classes where I could dive into big challenges, like learning how to make croissants.”
She eventually relocated to the Lowcountry to attend culinary school at Johnson & Wales University and then settled on remote Dewees Island for four years. “It doesn’t get any more local than plucking oysters out of your own backyard,” she says. During that time, Haley began to understand the region’s unique bounty, from perfect shrimp to heritage legumes and grains (red peas, Carolina Gold rice, grits, and a family favorite: butter beans).
When it comes to cooking these days, the mother of two lets local markets help her decide what to cook. “I don’t usually use recipes,” says Haley. Instead, she keeps an eye out for “what looks good” when she shops and takes inspiration from there. “It’s like playing my own version of Iron Chef!” she jokes.
As a longtime member of the Community Supported Fishery, fresh catches from Abundant Seafood belong to Haley’s regular cooking repertoire. Seasoning blends from Charleston Spice Company—like smoked paprika and her most recent obsession, Ethiopian “Berbere” (a blend of 12 spices including fenugreek, cardamom, nigella, and ginger)—are her flavor go-tos that work well on everything from root veggies, fish dishes, marinades, and dips. And when it comes to salt, a cooking cornerstone, she reaches for local Bulls Bay “for the same reason I prefer local oysters,” Haley says. “It carries the flavor of this place.”
When both of her kids (Maya, 19 and Brody, 23) are able to make it to dinner, she opts for a crowd-pleasing gnocchi with seasonal fixings—in this case, spring asparagus, Mepkin Abbey oyster mushrooms, and roasted chicken—along with fresh salad and a chocolate and strawberry dessert. As with her business life, the company she keeps plays an essential role in any meal. “It’s always important to make time to sit together,” says Haley. For her, the table, and by extension the kitchen, becomes the center of the most vital community she maintains: her home.
Lives: In North Charleston with her husband, Jim
Works: As the co-founder and executive director of Lowcountry Local First
On the Satisfaction of Making a Meal: “Cooking is something that, at the end of the day, I can say I accomplished. It provides instant results, and I really enjoy the process.”
Learn more about the Mepkin Abbey Mushroom business at charlestonmag.com/features/holy_shrooms
Spots to Shop Local Produce
■ Charleston Farmers Market
■ John’s Island Farmers Market
■ Lowcountry Street Grocery
■ Mount Pleasant Farmers Market
■ Pacific Box & Crate Farmers Market
■ Summerville Farmers Market
■ Sunday Brunch Farmers Market
■ Ted’s Butcherblock
■ Veggie Bin
■ Whole Foods (lots of local!)