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Community Feature New Farm & Garden Supply Store Gives Shoppers a Reason to Stay Local

With concerns about the availability of food in grocery stores and many people spending more time at home, there’s been a growing interest in a more sustainable option – gardening. For area residents, the opening of Clearwater Farm & Garden came just at the right time.

The store is a division of the Mulvane Co-Op, led by General Manager Jeremy Nelson. He is an advocate for shopping local, especially in rural communities where small businesses are so vital to the local economy.

“I think it’s important that we keep local dollars local. That’s my big deal and part of the driver behind opening the Clearwater Farm & Garden. We saw a need,” he said.

With 10 years of experience as a county extension agent followed by 11 years managing co-ops, the knowledge Jeremy offers at this new store is a welcome resource for Clearwater, Kan., area residents. Recent public health concerns have only highlighted the need in the community, and operations will continue despite the COVID-19 pandemic. As an essential business supporting food cultivation, they can remain open during the state-wide and Sedgwick County Stay-at-Home orders.

“Our plan is to stay open because animals still need to eat … and, you know – we are the grocery store for animals!” Jeremy said.

Clearwater Farm & Garden, which made its first sale on September 11, 2019, is conveniently located at 750 N. 4th, the gateway to the Clearwater community. Open Monday through Saturday, they stock all kinds of pet and livestock feed, chemicals, fertilizers, and farm animal supplies. They already have seed potatoes, bunches of onion plants, and an entire endcap of vegetable seeds – from cucumbers, kohlrabi, sweet corn, green beans, beets, spinach, and lettuce to cantaloupe and watermelon. Bedding and vegetable plants have already started to arrive and are available in the parking lot. They also have plans to stock mulch, potting soil, panels, and posts.

Their “Chick Day” was March 26, where they fulfilled pre-orders and disbursed more than 550 chicks. Clearwater Farm & Garden also stocked baby chickens in the store but quickly sold out of their first batch, including Easter Eggers – that will lay eggs in a range of colors from blue, green, rose or brown to sage, olive or cream. Check with the store for current availability.

With the health of both customers and employees in mind, Clearwater Farm & Garden is currently offering curbside pick-up – call in your order at 620.584.2500 and pay by charging to your co-op account, debit card, or credit card. You never have to leave your car. They’ll load the order, hand you your receipt, and you can be on your way without ever stepping foot in the store. After posting the procedure to their Facebook page, they’ve seen a great response to this service.

“I’ve got to tell you, we have just been blessed with the patronage and support from this community. Business has been great – even through this whole scare thing,” Jeremy exclaims. They’ve worked especially hard curating their inventory – combining sales data from other co-op locations with what they see available in similar stores in the region. Jeremy laughs, “Now, did we miss the boat on some things? Yes, we have some stuff that has not sold, so we’ll be changing that variety as we go, clearancing some things out, bringing some new things in.” They have something for everyone – and not just for our animal friends – toys, soaps, and they’ve sold “a ton” of Dot’s Homestyle Pretzels, “Pride of North Dakota” – a big hit in this community. They’ve also been responsive in trying to stock what customers ask for.

An example of that is Chaffhaye – a small-batch, premium alfalfa that comes in a plastic, 50-lb. bag. A customer said, ‘If you can get it, I’ll buy five.’ Jeremy ordered 10 and next thing he knew, they’d sold just over 100 of them. Now it’s a popular item amongst customers for feeding goats and horses. And that’s all thanks to an idea from a single customer. Jeremy says they’re fortunate that people are willing to make suggestions so they can adapt to the needs of the community. “These items that people have asked us for (we just didn’t think about it) have become very good sellers for us!”

Clearwater Farm & Garden wants to be your local stop for all your gardening and farm needs. It can be easy to take the trip to Wichita, but Jeremy hopes people will remember the importance of shopping local first. In fact, they are locally owned by many of the people in our community. Say what? As a branch of the Mulvane Co-op, Clearwater Farm & Garden is farmer owned. Just as local farmers make close to $15 million on grain annually through the co-op, as members they will also benefit from revenue at the Clearwater Farm & Garden store, he says. In addition, the store pays taxes, supporting the local school district, and their employees live locally. Simply shopping at their store creates a ripple that extends throughout the community.

Jeremy says that SKT has been a big part of supporting local businesses. For Clearwater Farm & Garden, SKT has been a good partner, doing a good job of providing what they need in order to conduct business. They have SKT phone and Internet services which they use daily. Their credit card machine requires Wi-Fi, and they stay connected to their other branches with online computer software. “We had a problem or two with disconnects on the Internet, but SKT came out and fixed it and we have not had any problems since. I’ll tell you what – that Cole [Richardson, an SKT technician] – he’s something else!”

With a minimum two-year commitment to “give it a whirl,” Jeremy believes the community needed this kind of store and is determined to stick it out. Happily, their first few months have already surpassed anything they ever thought or imagined. Jeremy predicts that their business will continue to evolve from what it is today, with ideas for equipment rentals, a farmer’s market in the parking lot, bringing in master gardeners, sponsoring community education classes, and having a food truck come out and park just for fun. Jeremy concludes, “… I’ve just got to get the sign out front painted, and the new sign up!”