Now on Slow Simmer – Urban Farm Supply Store

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what to work on next, especially something to settle into for an occupation as my kids get a little older and socio-economic forces far beyond Centre County push the the sustainability and relocalization movement out of the alternative lifestyle category and more into the mainstream.

I think I want to open an urban farm supply store like Eggplant, in St. Paul Minnesota (which offers classes a lot like the Spring Creek Homesteading workshops) or Seattle Farm Supply, or Hayseed’s Big City Farm Supply in Brooklyn New York (which also offers reskilling workshops)

It’s a baby plan at this point, an imaginary downtown hardware store selling tools, feed for backyard livestock like chickens and rabbits, and other supplies to the burgeoning population of urban homesteaders in State College.

The community toolbox I have in mind – “Slab Cabin Farm Supply” maybe – has lots of features, including:

  • basic inventory of shovels, spades, pitchforks, rakes, post-hole diggers, small handtools, replacement handles
  • basic inventory of hammers, mallets, wrenches, screwdrivers, nuts, bolts, nails, screws, hinges, drill bits, sandpaper, etc.
  • basic inventory of chicken feed, rabbit feed, beekeeping supplies, canning equipment
  • basic stock of local seeds and seedlings
  • catalog counter for customers to place special orders for seeds, tools and supplies not offered in the basic inventory, and for large, bulky items like chicken coops, bee boxes, wheelbarrows, etc.
  • small counter with tall stools, offering juices and coffee and a space for customers to hang out and chat
  • a small tool bank, offering sliding-scale tool loans and rentals for gardeners who’d rather borrow tools than buy them
  • small community carpentry workshop – 1,000 square feet with a table saw, drill press, sander, crosscut saw, lathe and layout tables; available for public classes and for individual use for an annual membership fee and completion of a basic shop safety course. Modeled on The Sawdust Shop in Sunnydale, California
  • a repair cafe – space and equipment for people to fix broken tools, machines, bikes, and other mechanical devices

For business models, I’m thinking about structuring the lease to offer the landowner a portion of monthly sales, rental and membership fees, rather than a flat monthly rent.

And for style, I’m thinking old-timey storefront, with bright red trim outside, and old wood countertops and floors inside…

Comment from Jim Eisenstein, Unpaid Field Hand:

With the demise of Houts and even AgWay, it is harder to get garden supplies. The market for such a store might still be rather small, and it would face Walmart’s prices on tools.

There are other products that could be offered. Fedco offers a whole display of seeds that could be sold. Also, there are products that folks either do not know about or if they do, don’t know how to obtain. Row cover is a good example, very useful for growing lots of vegetables (eggplant for one of many) that flea beetles devour with glee. But who wants to order a whole big roll from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply in California when all most gardeners need is 20 or 30 feet of it? Same for ground cover for weed suppression (including new biodegradable ground cover) and irrigation drip line.

The store could also facilitate folks locating other organic products. Where can you get really good neam oil or microbes or a rain gauge? Local organic growers can give you a good start on where to get all of these things and what sort of things gardeners could use if they knew about them. So the store would have an important teaching function, taking on some of the workshops now offered by Spring Creek Homesteading. It could also facilitate consultation between starting gardeners and knowledgeable local folks. So it strikes me as an idea worth developing.

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2 Responses to Now on Slow Simmer – Urban Farm Supply Store

  1. Jim Eisenstein, Unpaid Field Hand says:

    With the demise of Houts and even AgWay, it is harder to get garden supplies. The market for such a store might still be rather small, and it would face Walmart’s prices on tools. There are other products that could be offered. Fedco offers a whole display of seeds that could be sold. Also, there are products that folks either do not know about or if they do, don’t know how to obtain. Row cover is a good example, very useful for growing lots of vegetables (eggplant for one of many) that flea beetles devour with glee. But who wants to order a whole big role from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply in California when all most gardeners need is 20 or 30 feet of it. Same for ground cover for weed suppression (including new biodegradable ground cover) and irrigation drip line. The store could also facilitate folks locating other organic products. Where can you get really good neam oil or microbes or a rain gauge? Local organic growers can give you a good start on where to get all of these things and what sort of things gardeners could use if they knew about them. So the store would have an important teaching function, taking on some of the workshops now offered by Spring Creek Homesteading. It could also facilitate consultation between starting gardeners and knowledgeable local folks. So it strikes me as an idea worth developing.

  2. Maureen says:

    Great idea! Once upon a time when I lived in Rochester, NY, as part of a neighborhood improvement initiative, we had a Tool Library that worked well (but has since closed…in part because the precarious market forces we had even then tipped in a less than awesome direction)…but it lasted about 15 years I think. Perhaps another model to contemplate? http://www.myseac.org/tool_library.php

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