The Future Of Shopping Just Opened In This Tiny Midwestern Town

Farmhouse Market is open 24/7, selling organic produce to rural customers in need

New Prague, Minnesota

When Sweden’s first unstaffed grocery store opened earlier this year, it received a flood of breathless global coverage—it’s a concept both novel and posh, a natural advancement of our quest for eternal convenience. The store was the brain-child of tech guy Robert Ilijason, whose origin myth centers on dropping his last jar of baby food in the wee hours and not knowing where to go. Customers in Viken can now register with an app on their phone that will allow them to swipe into the store and pay for purchases without speaking to another human being—peak modern luxury.


The concept of the unstaffed store has broader implications than 3 a.m. munchies for the tech-bro set, though. For real disruption, look no farther than Farmhouse Market, posted up in humble New Prague, Minnesota (population 7,800.) Farmhouse, the first American iteration of the 24/7 supermarket, was opened by the husband and wife team of Paul and Kendra Rasmusson. The goal is simple: provide healthful, local food at affordable rates. By cutting the cost of staffing—an issue that might not immediately come to mind when considering how to fix food deserts—they’re able to offer better prices to rural, non-affluent customers.

The market is a funny hybrid of small-town hominess and modern tech disruption. You might picture something like this launching in San Francisco, with ample stock of KIND bars and goji berries. But this is rural Americana. Farmhouse has provided free sewing classes for its members, and much of it is run on the honor system. For instance, yams cost $1.49/each, but there’s a sign that encourages you to use your judgment; two little yams can equal one big one. “I’ll have customers call me in the middle of the night to say that they can’t get the scanner to work and I’ll say ‘Oh take that buttermilk home; you need it. Just pay us next time!’” says Kendra Rasmusson. That kind of handshake system might not fly in say, Brooklyn.

Members are given keycards that allow them to shop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Every new member gets individual training on the system, a boon for the tech-averse. Rasmusson says everyone gets her cell phone number too – “Doesn’t that seem crazy?!” – and she’ll stop by the store to help confused customers in a pinch. And for the people who really can’t get behind our automated future, the market is open for three hours, three days a week, with a real human employee. “Those open hours end up being a community gathering,” says Rasmusson. “We’ll brew up a pot of coffee, get people coming in just to say hello.”

The Rasmussons’ inspiration for the store was their two-year-old daughter, who was diagnosed with epilepsy. There have been strong links to a healthy diet ameliorating epilepsy symptoms, but they found it difficult to source local fruits and veggies. Rural America has its own food deserts—though Kendra asserts that New Prague is not one of them—as large grocery chains question the profitability of remote distribution channels. Though there is a big-box grocer near town, the Rasmussons are the only ones providing local, organic produce with a tech solution to keep prices low.

They are rigorous about sourcing from local farms, especially ones using organic practices. Critics of Alice Waters-style localist dogma always argue that this kind of shopping is inaccessible to poor communities, but the Rasmussons have figured out a way to make it affordable. They’ve heard a few critics who say, “Hey you could be employing local workers!” but Kendra is unmoved. “We’re here to solve one problem – not all problems,” she says. “Job creation just isn’t our focus.”

This is the upper Midwest, of course, so mid-winter produce selection can be a bit grim. Besides those ubiquitous root vegetables, they have to pad out their winter selection with non-local offerings. Kendra Rasmusson says it may not be ideal to ship in produce from Southern states, but the highest goal is that her customers have continual access to healthful foods. (Sorry, Alice.)

Farmhouse Market has been open for about six months now, and Kendra says they’ve been surprisingly profitable. They’ve given presentations to other communities in Minnesota on how to replicate their model; so far no one has bitten the bullet. This is also not the only model people are trying out to solve these issues in their own communities: In Kansas, the Rollin’ Grocer is a mobile market hoping to feed food insecure populations, and Savannah is also experimenting with a food truck that brings groceries to people at a discount.

No matter the new venue, the result is more people getting the food they need for themselves and their screaming babies—Swedish or otherwise.

Articles
Creative Commons

National Tell a Joke Day dates back to 1944 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was having a meeting with Vice-President, Henry Wallace. The two men were tired and depressed due to the stress caused by leading a country through world war.

During a lull in the meeting, Wallace said, "Frank, to cheer you up I have a joke I'd like to share."

"Let's have it, Henry," Roosevelt replied while ashing his cigarette.

"Why did the chicken cross the road?" Wallace asked. "Not sure," Roosevelt replied.

"To get to the other side," Wallace responded.

Roosevelt laughed so hard that the bourbon he was drinking sprayed out of his nose and onto the floor of the oval office.

RELATED: A comedian shuts down a sexist heckler who, ironically, brought his daughters to the show

The joke was so funny, and did such a great job at lightening both their moods, Roosevelt proclaimed that every year, August 16 would be National Tell a Joke Day.

Just kidding.

Nobody knows why National Tell a Joke Day started, but in a world where the President of the United States is trying to buy Greenland, "Beverly Hills, 90210" is back on TV, and the economy is about to go off a cliff, we could all use a bit of levity.

To celebrate National Tell a Joke Day, the people on Twitter responded with hundreds of the corniest dad jokes ever told. Here are some of the best.

Culture

The Judean date palm was once common in ancient Judea. The tree itself was a source of shelter, its fruit was ubiquitous in food, and its likeness was even engraved on money. But the plant became extinct around 500 A.D., and the prevalent palm was no more. But the plant is getting a second chance at life in the new millennium after researchers were able to resurrect ancient seeds.

Two thousand-year-old seeds were discovered inside a pottery jar during an archaeological excavation of Masada, a historic mountain fortress in southern Israel. It is believed the seeds were produced between 155 B.C. and 64 A.D. Those seeds sat inside a researcher's drawer in Tel Aviv for years, not doing anything.

Elaine Solowey, the Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura in Israel, wondered if she could revive the Judean Date Palm, so in 2005, she began to experiment. "I assumed the food in the seed would be no good after all that time. How could it be?" Solewey said.

Keep Reading Show less
Science

There's been an uptick in fake emotional support animals (ESAs), which has led some airlines to crack down on which animals can and can't fly. Remember that emotional support peacock?

But some restrictions on ESAs don't fly with the Department of Transportation (DOT), leading them to crack down on the crack down.

Delta says that there has been an 84 percent increase in animal incidents since 2016, thanks in part to the increase of ESAs on airplanes. Last year, Delta airlines banned pit bulls and pit bull-related dog breeds after two airline staff were bitten by the breed while boarding a flight from Atlanta to Tokyo.

"We must err on the side of safety. Most recently, two Delta employees were bit by a pit bull traveling as a support animal last week. We struggled with the decision to expand the ban to service animals, knowing that some customers have legitimate needs, but we have determined that untrained, pit bull-type dogs posing as both service and support animals are a potential safety risk," Delta told People regarding the new rule.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Liam Beach / Facebook

Trying to get one dog to sit still and make eye contact with a camera for more than half a second is a low-key miracle. Lining up 16 dogs, on steps, and having them all stare at the camera simultaneously is the work of a God-like dog whisperer.

This miracle worker is Liam Beach, a 19-year-old animal management graduate from Cardiff, Wales. A friend of his dared him to attempt the shot and he accepted the challenge.

"My friend Catherine challenged me to try to get all of my lot sat on the stairs for a photo. She said, 'I bet you can't pull it off,' so I thought 'challenge accepted,'" he said, accoriding to Paws Planet.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Americans on both sides of the political aisle can agree on one thing: our infrastructure needs a huge upgrade. While politicians drag their feet on high-speed rail projects, fixing bridges, and building new airports, one amazing project is picking up steam.

The Great American Rail-Trail, a bike path that will connect Washington state to Washington, D.C., is over 50% complete.

The trail is being planned by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit that is working with local governments to make the dream a reality.

Keep Reading Show less
Travel