Local farms strengthen ties to Greenville restaurants

Growing local, eating local

Brent Belue (left) and Mike McGirr (right) tour Thicketty Mountain Farms farm on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. Credit: Mary Willson

George Dubose, founder of Reedy River Farms, took a unique approach to health in 2013, which has turned into not only a lifestyle change, but a career reboot. He was in a graduate

English program when he moved to a North Carolina farm for eight months.

“I was really fat and unhealthy, and didn’t like my career,” he said.

His business partner, Chris Miller, was studying environmental science and feeling overwhelmed about the state of the world food system when he showed up in the same farming apprentice program.

A 45-minute drive to Cowpens at the Thickety Mountain Farm reveals a similar story.

Clemson University assistant professor and licensed architect Sallie Hambright-Belue and her husband, Brent Belue, started cultivating their family’s land when Brent was looking for a more fulfilling career and Sallie become involved with relating architecture in rural South Carolina.

However they came into the world of farming, they have similar missions: to make a living growing food.

Local food for local eaters

This is where Mike McGirr, founder of Feed and Seed, comes in. The nonprofit dedicated to the reconnection of regionally produced food has helped spur the rise in local restaurants purchasing produce from nearby growers.

McGirr has spent years forging connections with local farmers and community consumers.

“It’s literally a one-on-one conversation,” McGirr said. “I specifically go out to the properties and spend hours with each farmer.”

That’s just the start of the process. Proving that a small-scale farm can make a living from selling wholesale locally is a feat that includes the cohesion of farmers, sellers, chefs and consumers.

One of the major players is the successful Greenville restaurant Bacon Bros., founded by Jason Callaway. He recently purchased wholesale potatoes from Thickety Mountain Farms for their fries and chips.

Despite the growing trend in the food industry of creating menus around locally sourced ingredients, for Calloway and his team, it’s about quality and freshness.

“When they come from a local farm, it’s a week-old potato, if that,” he said. “My entire staff is passionate about [local food] and that breeds additional excitement about food and farms,” Calloway said. “And you’re committed to the community. Ten years ago, our average consumer could care less, but there’s a heightened awareness about it, and more people are wanting to know where their food comes from.”

Sallie Hambright-Belue and Brent Belue show Mike McGirr of Feed & Seed and Jason Calloway of Bacon Bros. their 6 acre farm land at Thickety Mountain Farms. Credit: Mary Willson

Sallie Hambright-Belue and Brent Belue show Mike McGirr of Feed & Seed and Jason Callaway of Bacon Bros. their 6 acre farm land at Thickety Mountain Farms. Credit: Mary Willson


Demonstrating success to local farmers

As for Reedy River Farms, they’ve been in the niche of selling to local chefs all along.

Because they are a small urban farm, it only makes sense economically to sell small batches to local eateries and at farmers markets.

“We were hustling. We basically would be breaking down back doors and kept on bringing samples and sending them a sheet every week of what we had,” Dubose said. “We tried to give a good product and not a flea-bitten piece of kale.”

And it worked. Greg McPhee, current executive chef at Restaurant 17 who is set to help open The Anchorage in the Village of West Greenville, started buying different produce every week. The farm’s main transportation is a cargo bike, which they can deliver on the same day.

While Thickety Mountain Farms is in their first stages of selling to local entities, they play an important role in showing other farmers what wholesale distribution locally can look like.

“That’s where we might get one two or three farmers to say ‘I want that, I want access to that,’” said McGirr. “They have to see it actually working before they are going to start adapting their processes and adapt into the market in a different way.”

Feed & Seed has established relationships with dozens of farmers across the 10-county Upstate and announced plans Tuesday to expand into a new food hub, which will be located at 159 Welborn St. with three entities run by Bacon Bros., including a butchery, a bakery and a diner.

In June, Reedy River Farms broke ground at a new location on Pendleton Street in the Village of West Greenville. Now, they are preparing the land for fall planting.

Want to be involved with selling wholesale product into the marketplace? Contact Feed & Seed at Feednseed.today@gmail.com.



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