Everybody knows that fabulous Lowcountry food is about more than merely sustaining life.

It's about history, culture, memories, family, community and even the basis for scholarly pursuits, says Laura Barfield, a librarian at Trident Technical College.

The college has landed a $46,000 planning grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to develop an interactive online resource to document the African, Caribbean, English, French, and Native American roots of the region's food traditions.

Barfield, the project director, said the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture is a partner in the Lowcountry Foodways Project.

Working together, the groups will develop a fieldwork plan to collect oral histories, identify existing sources of information, and build a database of materials that could be digitized.

Preserving food traditions and making the information accessible is especially important for the coastal region between Wilmington, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., Barfield said. "Our history is wrapped up in food."

And it's an important element in social activities, she said. "Southerners love to talk about food. They like barbecue, cooking out and big Sunday dinners."

Barfield said she's now forming an advisory group that will work for a year to plan the project. After the plan is complete, the group will apply to the same organization for another grant to launch. The entire process will take about three years, Barfield said. She hopes to soon develop a website to regularly update the public as the project moves forward.

When it's done, people will find oral histories from some of the regional food "heavy hitters," she said. It will also include images, videos, recipes and business profiles, and a section for academic researchers.

Georgette Mayo, Avery's coordinator of archival services, said it will also include information on regional farmers. She thinks farmers, especially African American farmers, are the region's "unsung heroes." They were doing organic farming long before that was a trend, she said.

"Anything that relates to food in the Lowcountry, we're going to put it in there," Barfield said.

Mamie Bittner, a spokeswoman for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, said the group last month awarded planning grants to 13 organizations, including Trident Tech. It's the only project that focused on food, she said.

Barfield said she's certain the project will garner a great deal of support. "Over the years, many people will make this into something big."

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or dknich@postandcourier.com.