Located right on New Prague’s Main Street, Farmhouse Market is housed in a small historic building that has been spruced up and stocked with an eye to things local, organic, and sustainable. That may not sound a lot different from one of the metro’s many food co-ops, and in fact Farmhouse Market has a membership program, although as with a co-op, you don’t have to be a member to shop there. But unlike a co-op that’s open to everyone during regular business hours, Farmhouse Market is open to non-members only nine hours per week: Tuesdays from noon to 3 p.m., Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. But those who purchase a membership (currently $99 for the first year and $20 for an annual renewal) have access to the store 24 / 7 through use of a members-only keycard and a self-checkout system.
You may wonder, as we did, where this idea came from, and how big the demand for local and organic products is in New Prague. Farmhouse Market owner Kendra Rasmusson (above, left) recently provided us with some answers. She’s from New Prague, herself, and grew up on a farm in the area. But like many small-town progeny, she found the big city more attractive after high school, and she moved to the Cities while pursuing first a Bachelor’s, then a Master’s in marketing communications. After marrying and giving birth to her first child, however, Rasmusson and her husband decided they’d rather raise their family in a small town, and off to New Prague they went.
Their daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of two, and that spurred Rasmusson to think harder about food and health. “The meds have really helped her,” she said. “But will they work forever? We don’t know. I know that food can make a difference in health, and I wanted to provide the best food I could for my family.” Like many others, she was saddened when Cedar Summit Farm closed. “I met with the Cedar Summit folks, told them I missed their market, and talked about the possibility of opening some kind of local, organic food store in New Prague,” she said. “They liked the idea, said they thought New Prague was ready for that. They didn’t want to be hands-on in it, because they’re retiring, but they offered to help and advise.”
So Rasmusson put her marketing communication skills to work and sent out a survey to New Prague residents last February. “I did it anonymously,” she said. “If the people here knew I was the one sending it, they might not have been so forthcoming.” She expected to get 100 responses, but within three days she had 250, largely supportive of the idea of a downtown market emphasizing local and organic. “There’s nothing really downtown,” Rasmusson noted. “Coborn’s is on the edge of the city. People want convenience, and the downtown is very bustling. We found this building; it has a parking lot next door; it seemed perfect.”
Except for one thing: the cost of staffing. “How could we, as a family with small children, staff someplace 24 / 7?” she asked. The potential solution turned out to be just down the street: Snap Fitness, one of the fitness chains that allows members 24 / 7 access without having staff on site much of the time. Rasmusson took the idea to city and county officials, who helped her refine it, and then she entered it in the Minnesota Cup, where it ended up as a semi-finalist. “But they suggested we try to open the store, then come back next year,” Rasmusson said. “I think they liked the idea of giving small towns a local grocery store.”
Beyond groceries, Rasmusson sees a use for the market in the community, especially for the upper level of the building, which has been rehabbed to create two community spaces, one a cozy spot for people to bring coffee and treats and chat, and another that can serve as a children’s playroom. Rasmusson envisions hosting kids’ art classes there eventually.
New Prague has been supportive of the store, which opened on Halloween of this year. Rasmusson’s initial goal was to have 200 members by the end of the first 12 months of operation; within three weeks of opening, the store had 190 members. Technology allows her to monitor stock levels from home, so she can reach out to suppliers and restock sooner than planned, if necessary. The store has also been popular with local farmers and suppliers. They’re provided with their own keycards, so they make deliveries when it’s convenient for them. Rasmusson noted that she has four local egg producers who keep her supplied, and the demand for eggs has been so strong that all four producers have stopped selling eggs at their homes. “They’re thrilled,” she said. “They can focus on their farms, not on being available to customers.”
The store has plenty of security, but Rasmusson feels that the vast majority of New Prague residents are honest. She’s also aware that this concept might not work everywhere. New Prague is a small town with just over 7,000 residents, but it has both industry and extensive farmsteads surrounding it. People nearby are knowledgeable about food sources and interested in cooking and eating good food. In spite of its small size, the town has farmers markets three days a week, with two locations, in the summer. Rasmusson sees that as a sign of interest, and also as a potential partnership. “We’re already talking with local CSA farmers about making the store a drop site,” she said.
What about that grocery store at the other end of New Prague? “We complement Coborn’s more than we compete with them,” Rasmusson said. “We’re smaller, different, focused more on specialty, and very local. I’m not going to have every single thing. I’ll probably still need to shop there myself now and then.”
Farmhouse Market, 120 Main St. West, New Prague, MN 56071