March 1, 2021 at 5:21 p.m.
“We have been talking about it for a few years,” Amanda Wallerman said. “But we had been talking about doing it in town, not on the farm. To us, that seemed easier to do.”
Then because of the coronavirus pandemic and the empty grocery store shelves found early in the pandemic, the Wallermans decided it was now or never to take the first step into creating a market to increase diversification on their farm.
“We had been selling some bulk beef, but with COVID-19, we had people calling and asking about buying single cuts which we couldn’t do,” Wallerman said. “I started thinking now was the time. We have a good friend who was working to start an on-farm store and was actively working at marketing her meat.”
The Wallermans milk 375 cows on their family’s Monroe County dairy farm, Ridgeville Holsteins Too LLC, with their two children Charlie, 11, and Maddie, 10.
With the turmoil the early months of 2020 brought to not only the dairy industry but life in general, the Wallermans began to rethink the idea of creating their storefront in town and looked instead to the existing garage attached to their home.
“Rather than take on the overhead of a store in town during uncertain times, we would invest in fixing up our garage,” Wallerman said. “If it didn’t work out, we’d still have a pretty nice garage.”
In the spring, the Wallermans started investigating what it would take to turn their garage into The Bossy Cow Country Store. It turned out to be a bit more of a project than they first expected when they sought estimates to re-pour the concrete floor.
“We found out the garage was off the foundation by about 5 inches,” Wallerman said. “That required it be jacked up and the entire thing poured new. That was the most time-consuming and most expensive part of the project.”
New windows and a new garage door were installed, and the electrical work was finished. The interior was painted to begin the farmhouse-style motif that Wallerman would follow throughout the remainder of the staging process for the new store, which celebrated its grand opening in November.
“We knew the meat sales would be the biggest draw and would be what would sustain the store,” Wallerman said. “But we really wanted to make everything as complete an experience as possible.”
Wallerman said she is focused on working with local people to source goods for her store and has the goal of sourcing most of her inventory from within a 100-mile radius of the farm.
“I’d like to be able to give people a place to market their goods, especially this year with so many craft shows canceled because of COVID-19,” Wallerman said.
The Wallermans raise the beef sold in their store and sell it as individual cuts. They also continue to schedule locker appointments for bulk beef sales. They source their pork and lamb from local farms. Fresh chicken and duck eggs are available from Wallerman’s own flock, and this spring they will begin raising broiler chickens and turkeys, and will be stocking those farm-fresh meats as well.
“The meat sales have been phenomenal, even more than I anticipated,” Wallerman said. “People really like knowing where their meat comes from, and that quality brings them back.”
They stock a variety of cheeses from Nordic Creamery and butter from Grassland where they ship their milk.
“We have talked a bit about looking into creating a farmstead cheese with our milk and labeling, but that is not something we are planning to actively pursue right now,” Wallerman said.
In addition to meat and dairy products, they stock a variety of Amish-made candies and noodles, locally raised honey and a wide variety of crafts. One local artisan soap maker takes some of the milk from the Wallermans farm and makes batches of milk soap bearing their label, adding to the uniqueness of the inventory.
Wallerman was able to procure a retail wine and beer license, opening up another avenue for the store.
“Our township had one open license; we applied and were approved for it,” she said. “We stock some craft beers, and we work with a local winery that makes a lot of cranberry-based wines. Being able to carry beer was great during deer hunting season. It made us a one-stop shop for hunters.”
Wallerman plans to host wine and beer tasting events this summer. Other plans include creating a petting-zoo for people to be able to see and interact with some animals on the farm. Thus far, Wallerman has relied on social media and word-of-mouth as her primary forms of advertising.
The experience of operating an on-farm store has been a good one for Wallerman, and she said her family has enjoyed the relationships developed with regular customers. The most challenging thing has been learning to operate the business end of the enterprise.
“I have been amazed at the response we have had,” Wallerman said. “We have regular customers who come each week to get their meat for the week. I was surprised to learn how far people will drive for a quality product and to have that assurance of where their food is coming from.”