Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls, MN

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

When John Peterson left Cannon Falls, MN, to attend college in South Dakota, he was sure his future held no room for the family turkey farm. Fast forward several years and we find Peterson and his wife Erica back in Minnesota, partners in running their family farm and living their dream to raise free-range turkeys and sell them direct to their customers through their farm store — Ferndale Market.

Farm life for the Peterson family began in 1939 with John’s grandfather, Dale. After finishing college, John’s father returned to the farm to carry on the business. Since the farm’s founding, the Petersons have raised their turkeys outdoors. The Peterson farm continues to allow their turkeys free range access in the summer.

Prior to 2008, however, the Petersons sold their turkeys to a large processor. “We were completely detached from sales and marketing at that point. The differences in the way our turkeys were being raised weren’t being recognized in any way,” says John. Recognizing this disconnect, Peterson and his wife discussed the opportunity before them and decided to return home to the family farm.

“[We had] started to explore our food system and educate ourselves about where our food was coming from,” he says. “It was in those years that we realized that we had the opportunity to do something unique by coming back to the family farm and [selling] our turkey products directly to the public, which we’d never done in the past. We were raising all our turkeys free range in the summertime, which is pretty uncommon these days and we were, and still are, an independent family farm. So much of the poultry world is so integrated today. We were in a spot to be non-integrated and independent.”

Peterson Family courtesy John Peterson

Courtesy of Ferndale Market

Peterson began to envision a farm market where they would sell direct to consumers as well as to restaurants, retailers, and food service accounts. The idea soon expanded to include other local products that were not currently available in the Cannon Falls area. The intention was to carry convenience items like milk and eggs, but also carry a variety of products so that someone could stop in on the way home to create a local, healthy dinner.

To name the store, they turned to their family roots and combined the names of his grandmother Fern and grandfather Dale. Ferndale Market opened in the fall of 2008.

In researching the local food market prior to opening his store, Peterson describes a failed local system where consumers were deprived the opportunity to purchase products that were produced so close by. “An example is Thousand Hills beef. It’s all produced and processed here, and yet you had to drive to the south metro to purchase it. That was the system we were trying to break with our turkeys, too. We were growing turkeys in Cannon Falls, we had been for 70 years, and yet if you walked into our local grocery store the turkeys had been undoubtedly shipped from the East Coast. The system just made no sense. We were trying to bring a little logic back to the system and help local people eat those foods that had been produced here for so many years.”

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Some local producers were obvious choices for Ferndale Market, including Eichten’s Hidden Acres, Faribault Dairy, Lorentz Meats, and the aforementioned Thousand Hills Cattle Company. Additional producers are researched and held to Ferndale Market’s two-pronged standard — “local in spirit and local in proximity” — before they are stocked. Exceptions to this standard, like consumer-requested Stonyfield Farm yogurt and Amy’s Organics frozen dinners, are few.

“It [is] fun getting to go out and meet our producers and get onto their farm to see what they’re doing. We take that role seriously, trying to do some of the homework for our customers.”

Not only does Peterson get out to meet the farmers, but he also says that most farmers and producers deliver to the market and are able to meet the customers. “We had an event going on and the guy who raises hens and brings in our eggs for us walked in during the middle of it,” he recalls. “He knows where to go; he walked right back to the cooler and put the eggs in there. I think that people were really surprised to see a farmer walk in with the eggs doing a delivery. That’s the kind of reconnection that doesn’t happen in a mainline grocer.”

Ferndale Market is located at 31659 County 24 Blvd, Cannon Falls, MN. A list of their products can be found here. Ferndale Market poultry products are processed in a local USDA-certified independent processor and are available retail throughout Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. A list of restaurants and retailers can be found here.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

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12 Comments

  1. We love Ferndale Market! It is really nice to have someplace to go to pick up items like Thousand Hills on the way home for dinner. It is disappointing that the local Cannon Falls grocery store used to carry some of the Lorentz meat products but no longer appear to do so. We do our best to buy any meat from Ferndale.

  2. Leslie Martin 04/28/2010

    Great article, wonderful food! Can’t wait for our next visit!

  3. Naomi 04/28/2010

    We always make time to stop here when we are traveling to Rochester and points further south. Very nice people, great products. Nice to see them featured on HT.

  4. I love Ferndale Market and try to go there from Northfield for several products. The entire family is very nice and helpful. Awesome place!

  5. Doug 04/28/2010

    If you haven’t gone yet, you need to. Support local foods as much as possible. Ferndale Market is doing it the RIGHT WAY!

  6. Marcus D 04/28/2010

    They have an incredible selection of local foods. The personal service is fantastic. We make special trips from the metro area just to go there.

  7. Tim Boliou 07/31/2010

    A few years back I had my colon burst at work. It was diver-tic-culitus. I did research and found out this started happening when pre processed food came out in the 40’s. My wife and I started eating healthier. 2 nights ago I got a movie from my daughter called Food, Inc. It shows the way comercial food is made, Not good people! My wife and I went to Ferndale Farm and were treated like a King and Queen! The question is=Do you want to eat food that will sometime make you sick or do you want to eat healthy and feel good? FERNDALE FARM is the place to go! You will not be broken hearted!

  8. Susan Fahey 11/26/2010

    Enjoyed a Ferndale Turkey from Kowalski’s for Thanksgiving. Fantastic, the best we’ve ever had.
    Thank you.

  9. marlene 11/19/2011

    Hi Ferndale,

    I saw your store on TV. Have looked through your website and
    can’t find where your store is located. I drive through Cannon
    Falls once a week. I know where McDonalds and the Dairy Queen
    are located. I am also familiar with highway 19 out past the
    big cemetary. Can you help me find you. I need an address.
    Please help!

    mg

  10. Marlene,

    They are located on Highway 24 on the same side of 52 as the Dairy Queen and Saratoga Inn. Just go down the road a quarter mile and you will see the sign and turkeys on the right hand side. Hope this helps!

  11. Lani Jacobsen 10/13/2012

    worth the drive from the Metro area. The only turkey we eat is from Ferndale, and the only beef we eat is from Thousand Hills. Not only do we feel healthier, we like knowing and supporting the people who raise our food – like the Petersons and the Churchills. Support the farmers who are doing it right!