Bureau County farm offers ‘whole salad,’ new on-farm retail store

Tony Stirling, owner of Silver Creek Farms LLC near Ladd, displays lettuce grown in the family’s aquaponic and hydroponic operation. (Photo by Catrina Rawson)

Tony Stirling expanded his family’s vegetable crops and launched a new on-farm retail store near Ladd to capture consumers’ increased demand for locally grown food.

“We’re hitting at the right time with everything we’re growing and selling. We timed it out good,” Stirling told FarmWeek. “People know exactly where it’s from, and it’s less than 24 hours old.”

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton Wednesday highlighted Silver Creek Farms as part of her Cultivating Our Communities campaign on the diversity of Illinois farms.

Since 2017, Stirling and his family have owned and operated Silver Creek Farms LLC. They specialize in aquaponics and hydroponics, offering fresh fish, such as tilapia, and vegetables year-round. With a recent expansion, Stirling now has 11,000 square feet of production area under glass. They also grow lettuce varieties in field production.

“We’re doing all this production on 1 acre of ground and two big greenhouses,” Stirling said.

Currently, Silver Creek Farms’ retail customers may buy pre-washed cucumbers, green beans and microgreens in grab-and-go packages. Later this year, the farm will offer tomatoes and a wide variety of peppers also from greenhouse production. Silver Creek Farms also sells pepper and tomato plant starts.

The farm store is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment on Saturdays and Sundays. Visit and message the farm’s Facebook page.

When lettuce field harvest starts in midsummer, Stirling estimated 200 to 250 heads would be available each week. Previously, nearly all the lettuce was sold to restaurants. Stirling’s plans include marketing lettuce online, along with selling at the farm store.

New this year, Stirling will grow his first hemp crop for cannabidiol in 7,000 square feet of greenhouse.

Stirling noted his vegetable crop expansion from strictly lettuce to other vegetables proved timely. “We shifted to a variety of vegetables instead of one main product. We thought, ‘Let’s provide the whole salad.’ Now we’re marketing locally through Facebook to local customers,” he said.

The specialty grower estimated most of his customers live in Bureau and LaSalle counties - and are following best safety practices. “Everyone is wearing masks and doing as much safety as they can,” Stirling said.