ANN ARBOR - When Kathy Sample and Bill Brinkerhoff started Argus Farm Stop back in August, 2014, they had just left corporate careers and were ready for a change.
Like many Ann Arborites, they frequented the farmers markets and belonged to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA's), but they felt the convenience of buying local was lacking.
That's when they decided to start a farmers market that's indoors (Michigan weather can be pesky and unpredictable) and open every day, 7 days a week.
Locally grown sweet corn for sale at Argus (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)
“We opened Argus to make local shopping easier. We have wonderful farmers markets and we have mechanisms to buy local food, but they’re not open every day," Brinkerhoff said.
“We traveled a lot for our corporate careers, and we knew how hard it was to get to a farmer’s market. We knew that CSAs are not always convenient, so we as consumers had experienced the difficulties of local food," Sample explained.
The Packard Rd storefront (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)
The indoor daily market concept, they say, was a game changer. They explained that some produce goes to waste during the winter months at outdoor farmers markets because the elements are too severe.
Many of the farmers that sell at the farmers markets also sell at Argus, and every item sold at the store is sourced locally. "Once you walk through the door at Argus, everything you see is local. It means that you’re going to be eating in season, and supporting the local food economy and local farmers,” Brinkerhoff said.
At Argus, farmers set their prices (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)
So, how does the business model work? "The farms deliver their goods just like a farmers market. They decide what to bring, they decide how to price it. They pay a shelf rental every month to participate in the store and they keep 80 percent of sales - that's very attractive compared to their alternatives" Brinkerhoff said.
According to the USDA census, farmers keep 17 cents on the dollar, while stores keep 83 cents. At Argus, they've turned the industrial model upside down, because their "first priority is to get the money to the farmers," Brinkerhoff said.
The staff at Argus believe in its mission, the owners say (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)
Before our interview began, an Amish farmer pulled up in a truck with a driver to deliver fresh eggs and sweet peppers. We spoke to him briefly, and he explained that his business has benefited from having a daily farmers market. Sample and Brinkerhoff later explained that they have agreed not to sell his produce on Sundays, since it is the Amish day of rest. "We respect that. We love that," Sample said.
Owner Kathy Sample talks to a U of M class about the business of local food (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)
Aside from running the business (and coffee shops), the couple also regularly invites classes of students from 2nd grade up through university to hear about what they do and the effects shopping local has on the community.
Sample says teaching is part of their mission, but the energy they get from kids who want to learn about local food is unmatched. "It's like you're doing something that's fulfilling a need, and that's the best part of it," she said.
- 325 West Liberty Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48103
- 1200 Packard Rd, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Learn more about Argus Farm Stop on their website.
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