In quest for eating local, SILO at Habersham connects farmers, consumers

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comApril 24, 2013 

Sea Island Local Outlet manager Erik Thyberg, left, and co-owner Patrick Kelly are photographed at the business.

JAY KARR — Staff photo Buy Photo

A black bumper sticker bearing a single, declarative and eye-catching sentence has been slapped on a large metal table outside the Sea Island Local Outlet storefront on Market Street in Habersham.

"You either pay the farmer or you pay the pharmacist," the sticker reads.

It's a provocative statement and one Patrick Kelly, co-owner of the business commonly known as SILO, says has become something of a mantra for himself, his business partners and his customers.

"We believe that part of what we're doing here isn't just delivering people all-natural, organic, local food, it's also about education," Kelly said. "It's about knowing what you're eating, knowing where it's been and ... that it's just not good for you to be exposed to all those chemicals, pesticides and other things that are so commonly used in modern food production."

Part co-op, part online farmers market, part community-supported agriculture program, SILO has become, in less than two years, one of the area's go-to sources for everything from vegetables to milk to artisan grits and rice -- all of it produced within 200 miles of Beaufort County.

The idea for the business came to Kelly as he worked as manager of the Habersham Farmers Market and noted one common and frequent complaint amongst the growers.

"It seemed like there was a farmers market every single day somewhere in the area, so the growers were kind of shuttling between them and they really didn't have time to farm," he said. "I just thought there had to be a better way of doing it, a way that benefited both growers and those who cared about and wanted locally produced vegetables and other items."

That "better way" was SILO, a business in which members pay a $50 annual fee to purchase items directly from farmers, growers, local chocolatiers and other suppliers. They are notified by email each week of what vegetables, meats and other items are for sale.

In addition to fresh vegetables, the business also sells everything from local pigs feet to spices and herbs to soaps and even two types of ginger ale produced in Hamer near Florence.

More than 600 people have signed up to receive the weekly newsletter, and Kelly said SILO has more than 450 dues-paying members, who stop by the business' 630-square foot storefront every Friday to pick up their weekly haul of fresh greens, turnips, beets, beef and an assortment of other, locally produced goods.

Tasked with making sure both customer and farmer are happy is market manager Erik Thyberg, who is, to date, SILO's only other employee apart from Kelly, his wife Lauren and their business partners, Garrett and Katie Budds.

It is Thyberg who mans the store each day and individually bags and wraps each customer's order in accordance with a tag showing that they did, in fact, receive the product they purchased from the correct grower.

Some customers, he says, are very particular.

"There are absolutely people who order certain spinach from certain growers," Thyberg said. "But dealing with the farmers has also been great. It's great to see how happy they are and they're actually competitive with one another and are always asking about who the top grower is. They're just happy to be growing and doing what they love."

Thyberg was credited recently with expanding SILO's reach to southern Beaufort County by setting up a pickup location at Palmetto Bluff earlier this year, one of several pickup locations beyond Habersham SILO has planned for the coming months and years. Locations in other parts of Bluffton, Beaufort and on Hilton Head Island and Lady's Island are being considered, Kelly said.

But as the business grows, so do the requests for harder-to-source local items, such as quail and duck eggs and raw milk.

"I just haven't been able to find a good vendor for raw milk," Kelly said. "It seems like a lot of raw milk production locally is just a guy in his backyard or something like that. It's not exactly a high-end dairy operation. It's a good problem to have, though. It shows that we're doing something right and that people are starting to care about what they're eating and where it comes from."

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.

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