GOOD

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
AFP News Agency / Twitter

A study out of Belgium found that smart people are much less likely to be bigoted. The same study also found that people who are bigoted are more likely to overestimate their own intelligence.

A horrifying story out of Germany is a perfect example of this truth on full display: an anti-Semite was so dumb the was unable to open a door at the temple he tried to attack.

On Wednesday, October 9, congregants gathered at a synagogue in Humboldtstrasse, Germany for a Yom Kippur service, and an anti-Semite armed with explosives and carrying a rifle attempted to barge in through the door.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
via Andi-Graf / Pixabay

The old saying goes something like, "Possessions don't make you happy." A more dire version is, "What you own, ends up owning you."

Are these old adages true or just the empty words of ancient party-poopers challenging you not to buy an iPhone 11? According to a new study of 968 young adults by the University of Arizona, being materialistic only brings us misery.

The study examined how engaging in pro-environmental behaviors affects the well-being of millenials. The study found two ways in which they modify their behaviors to help the environment: they either reduce what they consume or purchase green items.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

One of the biggest obstacles to getting assault weapons banned in the United States is the amount of money they generate.

There were around 10 million guns manufactured in the U.S. in 2016 of which around 2 million were semiautomatic, assault-style weapons. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry's trade association, the U.S. industry's total economic impact in 2016 alone was $51 billion.

In 2016, the NRA gave over $50 million to buy support from lawmakers. When one considers the tens of millions of dollars spent on commerce and corruption, it's no wonder gun control advocates have an uphill battle.

That, of course, assumes that money can control just about anyone in the equation. However, there are a few brave souls who actually value human life over profit.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via Reddit and NASA / Wikimedia Commons

Trees give us a unique glimpse into our past. An examination of tree rings can show us what the climate was like in a given year. Was it a wet winter? Were there hurricanes in the summer? Did a forest fire ravage the area?

An ancient tree in New Zealand is the first to provide evidence of the near reversal of the Earth's magnetic field over 41,000 years ago.

Over the past 83 million years there have been 183 magnetic pole reversals, a process that takes about 7,000 years to complete.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Pixabay

The final episode of "The Sopranos" made a lot of people angry because it ends with mob boss Tony Soprano and his family eating at an ice cream parlor while "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey plays in the background … and then, suddenly, the screen turns black.

Some thought the ending was a dirty trick, while others saw it as a stroke of brilliance. A popular theory is that Tony gets shot, but doesn't know it because, as his brother-in-law Bobby Baccala said, "You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?"

So the show gives us all an idea of what it's like to die. We're here and then we're not.

Keep Reading Show less
Health