Every Wednesday evening, a co-op of area businesses can be found in the parking lot of Merriwether Fire Station on Martintown Road selling their products.
The co-op of four businesses began about three years ago with Hickory Hill Milk, which is produced by Hickory Hill Farm in Edgefield. At the time, the farm had just started bottling milk, so employees placed signs in nearby towns to help promote the new offering and gain sales.
Before plant manager Benjamin Holmes could make it back to the office, farm owner Watson Dorn told him that people had already begun to call about buying the milk.
Dorn contacted the chief of the Merriwether Fire Department to get permission to set up every Wednesday. Hickory Hill Farm has since spent every Wednesday selling directly to area customers, Holmes said.
The milk is delivered to about 70 stores, but having the co-op allows the business to meet the people who enjoy their products, Holmes said. Attendees can buy hormone-free, nonhomogenized white and chocolate milk in gallon, half-gallon or pint sizes. Buttermilk is also available.
“When we take our milk to the stores, we only see the grocery store and the manager, we don’t get to see the customers who actually buy our products,” he said. “This allows us to have a direct business-to-customer relationship. We get to sell directly to them, and we get to really know our customers.”
Charles Eubank, the owner of Eubank Farm of Johnston, shared similar thoughts.
“You get to see customers week after week and get to know them,” he said. “It builds great relationships and support. Since I’ve been coming here, everyone has been supportive, and I really enjoy spending time here. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon.”
Joining the co-op helped him reach a new market, he said. He sells his meats to health food stores in Columbia and to some individuals in the area, but he didn’t have an outlet in North Augusta, he said. He has participated in the co-op about a year and a half.
The products he offers at the co-op include ground beef, beef sausage, cube steak, tenderloin fillet, brisket and short ribs that come from pasture-raised, hormone-free cattle, he said.
Rhonda Nowicki, of Nowicki’s Chickies, also participates and sells goat-milk soap with essential oils, lotions, bath salts, honey and eggs – all made from natural items or organically produced.
Last summer, Rebecca McDonald joined with in-season vegetables and a variety of jams and jellies, including tomatoes, pickled okra, squash, greens, and strawberry and blueberry jam.
Being a part of the co-op is about promoting and supporting local businesses, Nowicki said.
“I’m local, and I promote and buy from local people,” she said. “We have to support people in this area to help keep their businesses going.”
It also helps that their products attract the same type of customers, McDonald said.
“People who are looking for natural products can find several different things in one place. You have your soaps and lotions, your beef, milk, vegetables and jellies,” she said. “It also helps spread the word and reach more people.”
The co-op is held 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays in the parking lot of Merriwether Fire Station at 1879 W. Martintown Road.