Keeseville is a community of about 1800 residents in the Champlain Valley region of Northern New York. The hamlet has a defunct grocery store in the heart of it’s small but historic downtown. The community is not alone, either. 4.6 million people in the United States live in rural areas without access to a full service grocery store. In Keeseville, low income residents and those without reliable transportation are left to shop at one of the hamlet’s two dollar stores for nonperishable food items, or to go to the convenience store for prepared food like pizza and sub sandwiches. The more fortunate residents report driving 25 minutes north to Plattsburgh to buy their groceries.
Despite the limited access to fresh food in Downtown Keeseville, there is a budding agricultural community developing on the outskirts of the hamlet. A veritable local food renaissance has taken hold in the Eastern Adirondacks over the past 10 years, and Keeseville itself is home to a healthy crop of farms and orchards. A medium-scale organic vegetable farm, grass-fed dairy, sustainable livestock operation, two flower farms, and three apple orchards are all situated within 5 minutes of downtown. So what is to blame for the disconnect? Why is it that a community that is brimming with high-quality food does not have a retail option downtown?
Food access is a difficult equation in general, but it becomes much more complicated when trying to connect local and artisan or organic ingredients with low-income residents. Supply chain issues abound, and stringent certification standards often keep locally grown food off the shelves of conventional food retail outlets. Hurdles aside, the question that has been lingering in the minds of locals for some time is, “How do we get all of the fresh healthy food being produced in and around Keeseville into a storefront downtown?” After much though, a local non-profit seems to have found an answer in the local Pharmacy.
Keeseville Pharmacy is a thriving business that has consistently been supported by the community. People need their medications, and that provides some stability for a business in a downtown district that has otherwise faced difficulty in keeping storefronts open. The retail space occupied by the Pharmacy also features a selection of over the counter medications, greeting cards and gifts, and until summer of 2017, a RadioShack outlet. After RadioShack went out of business nation-wide, Keeseville Pharmacy had about 300 square feet of empty retail space to fill.
AdkAction, a non-profit that creates project to address unmet needs and promote vibrant communities, saw an answer to the local food problem in the newly empty space inside Keeseville Pharmacy. Leadership from the organization approached the owner, Dan Bosley, and asked if he would be interested in selling farm fresh products. Dan enthusiastically supported the idea, and decided to donate retail space and the staff time to make the farm store idea a reality. Without the overhead costs associated with opening a brand new store and hiring staff, a pilot program could go into effect at relatively low-cost. The project was quickly dubbed, the “Farmacy.”
Planning began in March 2017 and included outreach to the area’s farmers. Fledging Crow Vegetables, North Country Creamery, Mace Chasm Farm, Hart Orchard, Rehoboth Farmstead, Goff Flowers, and Mossbrook Roots Flower Farm all agreed to sell their products at the Farmacy. To keep inventory costs low, the farmers offered their products on consignment, taking on the risk of loosing perishable inventory but also getting the full retail price for the goods that did sell. AdkAction created a campaign to raise funds for coolers, freezers, and other merchandising equipment on the local community foundation’s crowdfunding platform, Adirondack Gives. Within just a few days, over $4000 worth of donations were received from about 30 individuals that were inspired by the concept.
By the end of August, the coolers, freezers, and shelving were installed and stocked with fresh, local products. Large organic eggs were stocked by the dozen, a freezer full of grass-fed beef, pork, and chicken provided healthy protein options, and fresh vegetables and apples filled the small but vibrant space. Local flowers helped create a truly bountiful atmosphere. A soft opening period of about 3 months gave the Pharmacy staff, AdkAction volunteers, and farmers the opportunity to get comfortable with keeping the Farmacy stocked and operating smoothly before the Grand Opening on November 17, 2018.
In front of an enthusiastic crowd of Keeseville residents at the opening, Keeseville Pharmacy owner, Dan Bosley, said, “"Keeseville Pharmacy's slogan is 'your key to better health.' And my new slogan I think will be, 'Good health starts at the table.' And this really is bringing that to the forefront."
To ensure that everyone has a seat at the proverbial table of good health, Dan has applied to receive an EBT card reader machine (EBT stand for electronic benefit transfer) to accept SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) benefits. The SNAP application was accepted in March of 2018. AdkAction has received additional funding to bring signage and promotional materials to the Farmacy, and will start offering tours of the participating farms and cooking classes to low-income residents as early as summer 2018.
At least in one small New York community, a pharmacy may just be the perfect place to sell fresh food, because after all, good food is often the best medicine.
The Farmacy initiative is part of AdkAction’s Community Revitalization Project. AdkAction creates projects that address unmet needs, promote vibrant communities, and preserve the character of the Adirondacks. Tax-deductible donations to the Farmacy Project can be made at AdkAction.org/donate.