Farm Stands Offer a Local Approach to Meat Sales

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On every test and paper turned in by Middlebury College students, the honor code is scrawled across the bottom of the page. But outside of the Middlebury bubble, students may encounter a slightly different kind of honor code: ones that exist at meat and dairy farm roadside stalls in the local area.

A mile down Weybridge Road, at Scholten Family Farm, is a tiny cube-shaped structure painted red and marked by a neat white sign advertising the “Farm Stand.” It is an experiment in trust. Anyone can drop in and peruse the fridges full of whole chickens and ground beef sausage while eying a smaller selection of eggs, as well as the Scholten family’s “Weybridge” cheese.

If one finds produce to his or her liking, he or she can consult with a whiteboard hanging on the wall for the price, leave money in a jar while taking the proper change, and head home, purchases in hand.

Patti Scholten, who produces her cheese in a building not 20 feet from the stand, quotes her husband Roger on the logic of the honor system farm stand:

“Our consumers trust us to put up high-quality food, so we should trust them too,” said Scholten.

The Farm Stand isn’t a unique entity in the township of Weybridge, however.  Just one mile north of Scholten Farm lies Duclos and Thompson Farm, home to what Middlebury students have nicknamed, “The Meat Shack.” The operation is comparable to the Farm Stand in the way that it is run, but Lisa Thompson, who manages the farm with her husband Tom Duclos, is hesitant to publicly label her store any which way.

“We don’t try to hide the fact that there’s a store, but there’s a reason we don’t have a sign out and that we don’t advertise,” Thompson said. “Because you know, the wrong people learn [how it works] and it gets abused and we have no business left.”

Despite Thompson’s reservations, neither farm has encountered major problems.

“I had a New York plate stop in here once and they took what was in [the cash box],” Scholten said.

Thompson too had the cash box stolen one night seven or eight years ago, but she suspects that it was high school students.

“It wasn’t what they took, it was just feeling violated. In general people are very appreciative of the way we do it and they want the meat … and they’re willing to respect that,” said Thompson

Students at the College rave about the services provided by these two farms. In fact, if you were at Weybridge House on Sept. 28 for the Weybridge Feast, you probably consumed Duclos and Thompson bacon. At 10 p.m. the previous night, Isaac Baker ’14 and a cohort of Weybridge House members ventured out to purchase the bacon. Baker and his friends gathered the meat they needed, left over fifty dollars in the cash box and went home.

If you were one of the lucky ones in attendance at Jordan Collins’s ’15.5  “Local Bacon” themed Dolci shift last spring, you enjoyed the very same bacon.  Or, if you managed to make it to Brooker last spring for the Pig Roast, again you would have tasted a Duclos and Thompson raised hog.

Both Collins and Myles Kamischer-Koch, ’15, who helped to plan the Pig Roast, are frequent customers at the “Meat Shack” and can attest to the high quality of Duclos and Thompson bacon and other meats.

For Kamischer-Koch, it is the variety of the meats. He attests that it is a quality that you often can’t find at the store, which brings him back to the Meat Shack again and again.
When Baker wants chicken he skips the Meat Shack and goes to the Farm Stand, which he has also visited about fifteen times.

The Meat Shack and the Farm Stand are, on the whole, profitable enterprises for their owners. Scholten estimates the profits of the Farm Stand to account for only one to two percent of the farm’s yearly income, taking in approximately $600-900 a month. The Meat Shack brings in $4,500-5,500 in business most months, one-third of Duclos and Thompson’s annual income.

Thompson explained that for many years her farm’s focal point was the “hot-house lamb” or “roaster lamb” market, meaning that most of the lambs were sold at Easter and Greek Easter to be consumed for holiday dinners.

“The economy tanked after 9/11 and the people in the cities weren’t ready to celebrate [and as a result business] slowed down significantly. It came to a point where we had been planning on the income from those lambs going and when they didn’t go we had to do something because we had to market the animals. So we built the store,” Thompson said.

Thompson also explained that the Meat Shack is unstaffed, partly to save the cost of labor and partly because the farming schedule keeps them in the fields. And of course, there is the aspect of convenience.

“People come all times of the day and night, because it doesn’t have hours,” Thompson said.

Five years after the Meat Shack opened, the Farm Stand arrived up the road at Scholten Farm with a slightly different origin. Roger Scholten, intent upon producing organic milk and selling his family’s farmstead cheese, started visiting farms to gain a better sense of the industry. What he found was that many of the farms he visited had farm stands, derivative of their inclination towards a local customer base.

Scholten estimates that on average, the Farm Stand will attract six customers a day. An exceptional day might bring twenty.

“Even on our worst days we get someone. It’s a very diverse group,” Scholten said.

At the Meat Shack, Thompson describes a similar situation.

“There is never a day that people don’t come and sometimes there is never a week when we don’t have new customers,” she said. Citing the invoice papers left in the Meat Shack for customers to fill out as her source, Thompson estimates that the Meat Shack sees 300 customers a month.

Customer-producer relationships are a potential subject of debate with the honor system service. For the Scholtens, said relationship was the “inspiration” for the Farm Stand.

“When you’re just shipping fluid milk, milk drivers pick up and leave,” said Scholten. These days, she enjoys receiving notes from the Farm Stand’s customers, many of whom she has gotten to know over the years.

Not everyone is convinced that this kind of connection between consumer and producer exists with such shacks and sheds, however. Meat Shack customer Rebecca Roe ’15 is torn in terms of how she feels about the business model.

“I love that the Meat Shack operates [the way that it does] — but that means that I’ve never met or talked to the people who raise the animals,” Roe said. “I’ve only read profiles of the farmers online, so I’ve lost a key part of the consumer-producer relationship.”

But Nicholas Frazier, ’16.5, a Meat Shack regular disagrees.

“Half the times I’ve been there, [Tom and Lisa] walk in and say hello,” he said. “I think they do make an effort to try to meet as many of their customers as possible.”

Frazier’s testimony is consistent with Thompson’s admission that while there are times during the summer when she and Duclos are “gone on tractors all day long . . . there [are other] times we’re around here a lot, and if I come home and there’s a customer there I always go check and see if I can help.”

Thompson’s check-ins at Meat Shack have given birth to friendships, not only with Middlebury students, but with visiting families as well. Thompson recounted the story of a certain Middlebury graduate of 2012.5 whom she came to know.

Though the student was from the Keene Valley in New York, an hour and 45 minute drive from Middlebury, she had introduced her parents to the Meat Shack on a visit.

“It got to the point that her folks were here almost every week. And even though she’s graduated they’re still here on a pretty regular basis getting their meat,” Thompson said.

“Sometimes it’s the parents, the grandparents, a stray uncle,” said Thompson. “Parents weekend, homecoming, whatever, your folks are visiting, a huge number of kids bring their parents out and say ‘you’ve gotta see this,’ and then the parents say ‘you couldn’t do this where we live!’”