by Kallie Rollenhagen
NEW PRAGUE, Minn., January 7, 2016 – Last January, Cedar Summit Farm in New Prague closed its doors. It was the only certified 100 percent grass-fed dairy producer in the state. Kendra Rasmusson, originally from the New Prague area (St. Patrick), had recently moved back to the area from the Twin Cities with her husband, Paul. They were seeking a place with a stronger sense of community where they could raise their family. The closing of Cedar Summit Farm prompted the Rasmussons to start exploring if this was an opportunity to open their own local foods market.
“I’d always known that I’d be a small business owner, it was just a question of when,” said Rasmusson, who has a background in marketing and communications. This past October, they opened Farmhouse Market in a 1890s building on New Prague’s main street. The Rasmussons were motivated by more than an entrepreneurial spirit to fill a local, organic food demand; their three year old daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy and the Rasmussons were exploring ways to wean her off medications through dietary changes, which some people with epilepsy have had success with. “While she still takes some medications, we’ve focused more on what we’re eating as a family and she’s been seizure free for over a year now,” said Rasmusson. “Increasingly, people are thinking about where their food is coming from and what they’re putting in their bodies.”
Farmhouse Market is not your typical grocery store. “At first, we started thinking about opening a traditional grocery store that would carry local and organic produce, which, based on a marketing analysis survey, we knew there was a demand for,” said Rasmusson. “However, the survey also indicated that more than anything else, people wanted a store that offered convenient hours.” After crunching the numbers, the Rasmussons knew they had to get creative if Farmhouse Market was going to be open hours that pleased everyone while still making any kind of profit.
Ultimately, they found inspiration from the 24/7 workout facility model. By creating a member-based store where all members receive a key fob – part of a system that also has security functions linked to Kendra’s phone for easy surveillance when she’s not there – members can grocery shop whenever they need to. The store is experimenting with only nine hours that are open to the non-member public. “We were hoping to have 200 members in the first year, and we reached that goal within the first month,” said Rasmusson. “I could see this store model replicated in other rural communities, tailored to whatever the needs of that particular community are. Here, it was access to local and organic produce. Everywhere, though, convenience is important; people don’t want to have to drive 20 miles for a natural foods store.”
“This is an exciting business model,” said SMIF SBA Lending Director Marcia Haley. “With many older grocery store owners retiring and an increasing demand for local food, a model like Farmhouse Market’s makes a lot of sense for new entrepreneurs looking to fill the gaps. This is the type of innovation critical to our rural economies moving forward.”
Rasmusson received a loan from Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation’s Local Foods Loan Fund. In addition to receiving free business consulting from Scott County’s Open to Business program, she’s also been working with SMIF’s Business Specialist John Katz to set up QuickBooks to manage the cashflow and business relationships with the more than 15 local vendors she works with. The store has everything from local produce and dairy products to grass-fed meats and cheeses, all-natural health and beauty products, locally roasted coffee, and gluten-free flours and mixes. Members pay with credit or debit cards using a simple self-checkout system. “If you can use an iPad, you can figure it out,” said Rasmusson, who also provides a help number should anyone need assistance.
Beyond providing local foods and goods, Farmhouse Market has a second floor with a sunny community room. Rasmusson envisions this as a flexible community space that members can use for things such as cookie exchanges, book clubs, art classes, a homeschooling network space, or a CSA drop-site.
Farmhouse Market is located at 120 W. Main St. in New Prague. The store’s public hours are noon to 3 pm Tuesdays; 3 to 6 pm Thursday, and 9 am to noon Saturdays. Membership is $99 for the first year and $20 annually to renew. Members have 24/7 access to Farmhouse Market, including the community room (with WiFi), 5 percent off purchases, and 10 percent off bulk purchases. To learn more about the market, including a listing of all local vendors and to purchase membership, visit their website at www.farmhousemarketnp.com.