Shelby farmers finding niches in Louisville markets

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Most still focus on smaller venues, but wholesale sales are increasing

By Lisa King

If you going shopping for products from Shelby County farmers, you won’t find very much in Shelbyville stores, farmers say.

One reason, said Mary Courtney, who owns Courtney Farms on Vigo Road along with her husband, Shane, said there’s not as much demand for fresh produce in Shelby County as there is in Jefferson County.

“Shelby County is still very rural, compared to Jefferson County,” she said. “You have a lot of families that get summer produce from their neighbors, or from a family member, or from a co-worker, whereas, in Louisville, gardens are few and far between. So there’s more of a demand for fresh summer produce for folks that live in Louisville, because it’s not as easily available.”

In general, larger grocery stores, such as Walmart and Kroger, want farmers who can provide more product than smaller farms are able to, said Susan Schlosnagle, co-owner of Dutch Creek Farms in Cropper.

Karen Thompson, with Kroger public relations, said that Kroger in Shelby County does carry some products from area farmers, including flowers from Collette Lewis who owns Bluegrass Nursery in Shelby County.

Randie Gallrein, who owns Gallrein Farm along with her husband, Bill – their farm is best known for its sweet corn – said they sell some products to Kroger.

“Some of it ends up at Kroger, not very often,” she said. “Kroger does not buy a lot of corn from us, but they get a little bit of it.”

Said Courtney: “Kroger carries some of our items, but the general public wouldn’t know they were our items. They carry our cucumbers, eggplant, specialty peppers; we do banana peppers and jalapenos.”

Walmart officials did not immediately supply information.

Thompson said that Kroger is working on a new concept to make more Kentucky Proud products available in stores across the state. That objective will kick off July 30 with a Kentucky Proud Producers Show at the Holiday Inn on Hurstbourne Parkway in Louisville when local farmers and producers will turn out to display their products for Kroger to consider.

“It’s something new we are doing and we’re very excited about it,” she said.


Smaller venues

Most farmers selling produce said smaller venues – like their own retail stores, restaurants and smaller stores – get the bulk of their items.

Gallrein said they sell most of their products – 80 percent – on a retail basis at their facility on Vigo Road, but of the 20 percent they sell wholesale, much of that is sold at farmer’s markets and in restaurants in Jefferson County.

“It goes through a broker; mostly it goes to a lot of produce stands around,” she said. “It goes to Creation Gardens out of Louisville, they supply all of the restaurants, probably the bulk of the wholesale goes there. Stanley Brothers is the broker we go through that sells to Kroger. Creation Gardens, they sell a lot of our squash and zucchini, some corn, just depending on what we have, but those are the three biggest things.”

“They [people dining in Louisville] could very well be enjoying our produce at some of the higher end restaurants, some of the gourmet restaurants,” she said.

Amanda and Matt Gajdzik, who operate Mulberry Orchard on Mulberry Pike, said they, too, focus more on their local store, at least for now. The farm produces a wide variety of items, highlighted by their peach and apple orchards.

“We’ve got an onsite market here and sell at Shelby County and UofL’s Farmer’s Market and also sell some wholesale, to all different places,” said Amanda Gajdzik.

“We do about fifteen percent wholesale; we do farmer’s markets just to get our name out there. Our biggest sales items are apples and peaches, we don’t have apples yet [this season.] On the wholesale market, apples, have a better shelf life, peaches have a super short shelf life.”

Gajdzik said they sell a lot of apples to the Shelby County Schools system, and also at other Shelby County farms that have retail operations.

“We have half a dozen other local farmers that sell our products as well, our eggs and honey, jellies and preserves, other stuff,” she said.


A different wholesale

The Courtneys are one of the few Shelby County farmers that sell mostly on a wholesale basis, Mary Courtney said.

“Most of ours goes to grocery stores; we do a lot with Jefferson County Public Schools,” she said. “We do a lot with distributors; they will take our products and go to restaurants and grocery stores, beyond our ability to distribute. I wish we were able to wholesale more in Shelby County; occasionally Hilltop [Produce and Garden Center] will purchase our items. There are some grocery stores in Louisville that get quite a bit of ours, and we deliver directly to those stores, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. That’s when I talk to their produce managers, and he or she, if our eggplants are in season, then the eggplants from our farm will be on their shelves, for example.”

The Courtneys often have produce available at Whole Foods in St. Matthews, and it’s usually just down the aisle from another Shelby County product – Chelsea’s Gourmet Pasture Eggs.

Schlosnagle said she sells much of their products in Jefferson County.

“We go to St. Matthews Farmer’s Market; we take our chickens, processed and cutups, grass fed beef products,” she said. “We have a retail meat license, everything we do is USA processed. We take our freezers down and sell right out of our freezers [at St. Matthews]. Her farming operation is family owned; both her children are majoring in ag-related fields in college, and the farm features products named for them, Chelsey’s Eggs and Jared’s Certified Grass Fed Angus.”

Along with Whole Foods, the Schlosnagle’s items can be found in Louisville at Rainbow Blossom, Value Market, Lucky’s Market and Earth Fare, and in Eminence at Norm’s Food Market and in Lexington at Good Foods Co-op.

In addition, Schlosnagle said she is excited about a new restaurant that has just opened at the Henry/Shelby County line called Main Street Café. The owners, Rachel and Clara Yoger have been buying their produce and serving it in their restaurant. Also, she said, a new indoor Farmer’s Market is expected to locate in a month or so next to the restaurant, a venture she is eagerly anticipating, and yet another place that will carry Shelby County products.