The Pennsylvania Yankee Mercantile: A 100 mile market that is striving to connect consumers with local organic farmers
By Megan Fenton
In May of 2010 the Pennsylvania Yankee Mercantile found a home on Main Street in Penn Yan, a small town in the heart of the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York. The Pennsylvania Yankee Mercantile is a quaint country general store with a big mission. The Mercantile is a 100 mile market, meaning that all the products need are grown within 100 miles of the store. Exceptions have been made for luxury items like sugar and coffee; however, they are packaged or roasted by locals. The Mercantile offers a variety of foods and household basics that adhere to a strict standard of health, taste and locality. All of the edible products are organically produced.
They sell products such as meats, dairy, eggs, produce, fruits, grains, dry beans, sugar, baked goods, canned goods, soaps, pottery, clothing, fabric, wooden utensils and dishes, hand-made wooden toys and much more. The core mission of the Mercantile is that they work directly with each and every farmer and craftsman. The owners Elizabeth and Daniel Hoover wanted to cut out the wholesalers so they could have a direct relationship with every producer that had a product on the shelf.
The Mercantile has a genuine country store feel. The quaint storefront is only the beginning. When you walk in to the store you are welcomed by a grand display table of breads, pasta and baked goods made from fresh ground local organic grains. The coolers and the freezers are stocked with seasonal produce, local organic grass-fed meats, dairy products and local organic ice cream that they churn with a hit and miss engine right on Main Street. The clap of the hit and miss engine draws the curious community towards this delicious treat. Elizabeth stated proudly that “the ice cream is 90% local and 100% organic.”
Arguably the most striking feature inside the store is the row of wooden grain bins that house a diverse range of local organic whole grains and dry beans. The Hoovers also have a table top grain mill on site to produce fresh flour for customers. “The customers often say that they feel like they are stepping back in time and some of the more elder customers actually recall when the local general store was common” explained Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth Hoover, co-owner with her husband Daniel, was asked how she came up with the idea of having a 100 mile market in downtown Penn Yan she chalked it all up to divine intervention. Elizabeth explained that she was at a community event when a local woman approached them and blatantly asked them to buy her storefront. Even though the Hoovers were confounded at first they began dreaming up ideas of what they would do with the store. Daniel Hoover was raised on a local farm that produced grass-fed Angus beef, and he recalled the struggles his parents had marketing the beef. In addition, Daniel who is also the Mill Manager at Lakeview Organic Grain recalled his daily interactions with numerous farmers. He was noticing that there were farmers looking for a place to sell their products and consumers looking for a nearby store that had wholesome local products. While brainstorming the idea Elizabeth recalled a young boy at a local picnic that believed the meat for his hamburger came from a package from his local grocery store. With ideas and just causes swarming in their minds the Hoovers saw this store as an amazing opportunity to support farmers and re-connect consumers with their food.
The Mercantile has been open for less than a year but the Hoovers say they have learned many lessons. Elizabeth expressed that she never realized the impact that working directly with farmers and craftsman would have. “It allows me to have complete confidence when I am explaining products to consumers.” Elizabeth has learned that there are numerous small farmers that need a market like the Mercantile because they are too small to sell to larger grocery stores or do not have the capacity to travel to farmers’ markets.
The biggest challenge for Elizabeth has been “matching supply and demand.” With perishable items in stock and no trend data to estimate from the Hoovers have established creative ways to attenuate the circumstances. For example, regular customers to the Mercantile can pre-order the groceries they would like for the week ahead. The perishables that don’t make it to the consumer fast enough have been appreciated by the Hoovers pigs: “their last meal before butchering was some of our ice cream,” Elizabeth said with a smile.
The Hoovers encourage farmers and craftsman that are within a 100 mile radius of Penn Yan, New York to contact them if they have organically produced items or crafts they would like to sell. In keeping with the old general store model the Hoovers are willing to work with producers to meet their needs and even take products in trade for groceries! The Pennsylvania Yankee Mercantile is located at 7 Main Street, Penn Yan, New York. For more information about the Pennsylvania Yankee Mercantile or to inquire about selling your products please call 315-536-8780 or visit their website at www.pymercantile.com.
Megan Fenton is the Sustainable Agriculture Educator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Yates County.