Unless you are old enough to retire or spend time in off-the-beaten path mountain communities, most people are unfamiliar with the concept of a general store.
Made popular during the days of the Old West, general stores were places where you can generally find just about anything that can be stored – canned food, dry goods, lumber, gardening equipment, hardware, etc. It was a placewhere customers could get honest advice on cost versus quality of a product, where the staff was patient yet attentive and where employees carried your purchases to your wagon or “horseless carriage.”
If you think those days are gone in the Valley, you might want to check out a new store in Lindsay.
Farmersville natives Dennis Johnson and Larry Blake opened Central Valley Farm Garden & Ranch Supply in Lindsay last November. While they don’t carry canned food or dry goods for humans, they do offer feed for both pets and livestock, picking supplies for farm laborers and farm labor contractors and gardening supplies and equipment.
“It’s hard to find a company that does all of the things we are doing,” Johnson said. “There definitely wasn’t anything like us in Lindsay.”
In fact, Lindsay was the only place Johnson considered locating the store because of its position between the big box home garden retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot in Porterville, Tulare and Visalia. Opening in the void between the major retail centers, Johnsons said many small farmers are finding competitive prices, closer to home and with double the customer service.
“We treat everyone the same here, whether you are a picker, a farmer or just someone with a backyard,” Johnson said.
Blake and Johnson said the goal is to service the needs of customers for feed, gardening and agriculture supplies, but most of the store’s sales are feed based right now. The store offers feed for both pets and livestock, with the most popular types of feed being for people raising chickens, rabbits and racing pigeons.
In order to keep feed prices down, Johnson said they get high quality feed from O.H. Kruse Grain & Milling in Goshen. By being so close to the store in Lindsay, Johnson said he doesn’t have to pay for shipping and can load up enough to fill weekly orders in an SUV or pickup.
“We have been spoiled by the quality and price they offer,” Johnson said. “There hasn’t been any reason to go anywhere else.”
Gardening supplies have also been good for the new business. Johnson said Tappin Roots, an all-natural fertilizer used in organic farming. The family-owned company based in Occidental, Calif. uses a patented blend of wild harvested plant extracts and naturally occurring mico-nutrients that feed the plant and protect its roots from fungus and mildew without the harmful side effects of chemical fertilizers.
“I have seen strawberry farmers whose fruit was twice the size since they started using it,” Johnson said.
In order to keep down the cost, Johnson said CVFG buys the product in bulk at wholesale prices and then pumps it into smaller 5 gallon buckets that customers can buy for a fraction of the retail markup price. But the biggest selling point for customers has been the customer service. Johnson said the business received a jump start from farm laborers and gardeners who were amazed when employees offered to carry and load multiple 20-pound bags of feed or 5 gallon drums of fertilizer.
“Since November we have increased our business by 60%,” Johnson said. “For a first year business that’s phenomenal. We want to thank the community for all of their support.”
And while old fashioned customer service is a great place to start, CVFG is also looking toward the future. Blake said the store is offering kits to build backyard or in-home aquaponics systems, a form of sustainable farming that has recently exploded on the East Coast. Aquaponics was coined from the combination of aquaculture (raising aquatic animals in tanks) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water). The system uses a bio-filtration system based on the symbiotic relationship between plants and animals. Similar to the way trees take in carbon dioxide and convert it oxygen for people to breathe, sea creatures and plants swap nitrates for nutrients.
“We are always thinking outside the box,” Johnson said. “A lot people here have never seen or heard of this. As a business, we want to make sure we are always offering something new.”
The two-tiered system involves a lower tank for fish, prawns and crawdads and an upper tank for vegetables. Blake explained that animal secretions and uneaten food will settle on the bottom and become toxic for the animals. Before that happens, the water is then pumped into the upper chamber where bacteria break down the by-product into nitrates which are absorbed by the plants as nutrients. The naturally filtered water is then recirculated into the lower tank providing fresh water for the animals.
“Back east this system might run about $5,000 for a kit,” Blake said. “But using our materials and putting it together locally, we are planning on selling them for around $400.”
Johnson said his store is also working on developing a new picking bag and other customized products to make it easier for farm laborers to do their jobs more efficiently.
“These people are professionals and are good at what they do,” Johnson said. “It’s time businesses started treating them like professionals and provide them with the products and equipment they need. Some of the equipment is outdated and hasn’t changed in decades.”