Fresher food, straight from the farm: Local food stores in Wyoming are growing
By Renée Jean, business and tourism journalist
Boba drinks and baked goods. Meat from seven Wyoming producers. Raw milk, cheeses and butter. Lettuces, blue cheese vinaigrette and pickles. Paperless napkins, candles and chocolates.
These are just a few of the locally sourced Wyoming products available at a new, year-round farmers’ market in Fremont County that features locally produced foods and produce from more than 40 vendors — and that is not finished.
The fledgling business is open five days a week, like a regular grocery store. But its vendors are all local producers who periodically drop a new batch of produce when the shelves empty.
Now about 800 of the available 15,000 square feet are filled with Wyoming produce. That gives this store plenty of room to grow for the future, Jessica Fritz, co-owner of the local Fremont Market told the Cowboy State Daily.
The new business model is for-profit, although the non-profit Fremont Local Food is helping to get it off the ground. Although the idea for the year-round farmers’ market was not born out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it did help provide a spark, Fritz said.
The pandemic helped highlight for her board members “that something like this very likely could be very essential,” she said. “Because instead of dealing with a whole bunch of different farmers in an open space, you’re only dealing with one, basically a cashier, who brings you all your produce as you go. your shopping.”
Everything is local
The store already has around 200 customers a day, Fritz said, adding that regular hours and a variety of products available are key selling points.
“Consumers are super happy,” she said. “They like to be able to go through and grab the things they want. Everything is reliable. We have a lot of people who only want local meat and only want local eggs.
“The fact that they can get their milk, their eggs, their meat, and then their baked goods – and everything here, locally – in a timeframe of hours that suits them.”
Eventually, Fritz said she hoped to affiliate with Eat Wyoming so that products that could be shipped across the state would be available to a larger market.
Another option for producers
Consumers aren’t the only ones enjoying the new arrangement, Fitz said. Producers also appreciate being able to drop off produce for sale through designated agents, rather than waiting to sell their produce for a limited time on weekends or weeknights.
Now their products are on sale five days a week, and they are free to do other things while they are sold.
Among those producers is Tim Thornburg of Gold Standard Farm and Ranch in Riverton, who sells a variety of raw milk products at the local Fremont market, including late milk, strawberry and chocolate flavored milk, as well as kefir and yoghurts, which are sweet. with local honey.
“I just spoke to a local chocolatier yesterday and we’re going to start using their syrup in our chocolate milk,” Thornburg said. “So we’re not just going to use our local raw milk, we’re going to use chocolate syrup from a local chocolatier here.”
Started with 1 cow
Thornburg and his wife Bobbie started their cow milking business in 2016 in response to a downturn in the oil and gas industry.
“At that time my wife and I had, I think, a cash cow,” he said. “We had pigs and chickens, and I told him we either had to get serious about it and go whole pigs, or we had to sell it all and move to town.”
The Thornburgs were fed up with the ups and downs of the oil and gas industry.
“You had four boom years and then, depending on who was elected, you had another four good years or four bust years,” Tim Thornburg said. “You lived your life four years at a time.”
So the couple took all their savings and bought dairy cows.
The supply chain opens its eyes
Then the pandemic hit and the resulting supply chain issues, and suddenly Thornburg had more business than he could keep up with.
“I’ll say we’ve been up to 11 cows at a time,” Thornburg said. “Right now we are milking, well I have five cows right now. Three are in milk, two are dry. We are waiting for them to calve and then they will be refreshed, so we will start milking them again.
Each cow typically produces five to six gallons a day, but Thornburg has one cow that produces 11 to 12 gallons a day. He tried to raise her – but so far no luck. She only produced bulls.
Thornburg said he thinks the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to their food and where it comes from.
“(Grocery) doesn’t come out of the backroom of Walmart or Safeway,” he said. “Farmers produce groceries one way or another. So, I think it’s kind of a realization that people are like, ‘Wow, I can go right here to my local farmer and get the same thing. And I can talk to the farmer, I can find out how it’s produced. I can find out if they, you know, if they get antibiotics or if they spray their vegetables or that sort of thing. At the grocery store, you just take their word for it.
Quality trumps bargain
Price might be the only sticking point for some, Thornburg acknowledged. A gallon of raw milk produced from his farm costs $12.
With hay at $250 a bale and corn at $100 a week, that’s exactly where his math ends up.
“I’ll be the first to admit that yes, the prices are probably higher at (Fremont Market) than what you can buy at the grocery store,” Thornburg said. “But more, I just set my price, and when someone says, ‘Well, I can’t, that’s too much or something,’ I think fine, I just tell them, especially on the milk, I say, ‘Well OK, you’re going to buy a $2,000 cow, then spend another $2,000 on milking equipment and still have $10,000 worth of feed, then tell me what you need to get for a gallon of this milk ?
Most Thornburg customers and others who shop at Fremont Market aren’t necessarily looking for bargains. They have special diets, want to source local food to keep money flowing in the local economy, or they think the quality of what they’re getting is worth paying a little more for.
Close the gap
But as inflation continues to narrow the price gap between larger retail markets and local markets, many stalls selling locally sourced food are starting to see more customers.
Lené Whitt operates Whitt’s End Cattle Depot and Farm Stand about 12 miles west of Cheyenne, which has about 33 vendors selling local food five days a week.
The farm opened last November, but Whitt and her husband Augustus have been raising cattle for about seven years and selling their meat online.
They pay attention to the price differential of their meats and are very aware of grocery store prices when setting their own prices.
Lately, hay and corn prices have increased dramatically, even when buying bulk feed. But so far they are sticking to their current prices.
“We don’t make a lot of money,” Whitt said. “But my husband says, ‘Well, we feed America and I love what I do. “”
Whitt believes that most of his customers, while being price conscious, prioritize quality over price.
“Our prices are higher than Walmart because, I mean, that’s what we have in them,” Whitt said. “At Walmart you can get a burger for $4 a pound and we charge, if you buy in bulk it’s $6.”
It’s an overall loss for the couple, but they make up for it somewhat with their high-quality steaks, for which they can charge a premium. These command higher prices, although they are willing to compare well to grocery store prices.
Local producers Sourcing other local producers
Whitt also offers raw milk at the market and ice cream which they make from their dairy cattle.
The milk she sells only stays on the shelf for four days, after which it is taken to another vendor who makes cheese from it.
“We also buy local eggs,” she said. “Anyone here can bring us eggs and we’ll put them in the Farmstand. And then we have salsa and honeys, honey mustard and barbecue sauce – they all come from local people.
One woman bakes pies, another bakes cookies, and there’s even someone who crochets.
“We try not to do a lot of things, but at Christmas we do decorations, and we have people who cook once a month and they bring things to us,” she added.
Among those unique products are incredible cinnamon rolls, Whitt said, which have sometimes sparked a rush of customers for the dozen available on a weekend.
So far, the business has done well enough in its first year of operation that Whitt and her husband are considering a larger shed to expand their fledgling local food business.