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The Antelope

The Antelope

Farm-to-table movement flourishing

Andrew Erickson operates Andrew’s Garden, a farm-to-table produce store.

Central Nebraska recognizes current fresh produce trend 

BY: Rachael Fangmeier

Colorful peppers and textured pumpkins fill the old-fashioned metal basins that make up the aisles of Andrew’s Garden shop in Kearney. Signs with farm themed sayings and jokes adorn the walls by the entry way. These items don’t come from the big chains, but are created or produced by area vendors.

In the age of the farm-to-table movement, businesses are recognizing the new consumer trend. Local businesses are catering their products to meet consumer demand of local, fresh produce and meat. 

“Farmer’s market and buying local is kind of trendy right now,” says Andrew Erickson, producer and owner for Andrew’s Garden in Kearney. “The ultimate goal of the business is to give the consumer the best product that they can get. Locally grown, high quality, high nutrition. We offer fresher products, fewer days from the farm to the consumer.” 

Morgan Hebbert of Kearney has been shopping at Andrew’s Garden before he had a store and was just a booth at Kearney’s farmer’s market in the old K-Mart parking lot. 

 “I love the fresh produce, and the prices are good,” Hebbert said. “I also try to make an effort to support local businesses and when you walk in the door you can tell that it is a family effort, they take turns working and all contribute, young and old, which I really respect.” 

Hebbert does shop at traditional grocery stores on a weekly basis, but she also shops at the local business. She attributes her habit of supporting local business to growing-up in a small town. Her parents, both workers at local businesses, taught her to shop local to keep the money local. This idea has stuck with her.

Growing up, Hebbert’s family always had fresh fruits and vegetables in the house. When she moved away from home, the habit subsided for a while. However, she has started including more fresh produce in her diet since after graduating college and entering the workforce.

“When you get older and your metabolism starts slowing down, plus you sit at work all day, the struggle is real,” Hebbert said.

The in-season produce are Erickson’s best sellers. Erickson grew up on a farm and grows the produce in his greenhouses. He prides himself on providing fresh, high quality produce to the Kearney community and surrounding areas. 

“Our biggest thing is fresh vegetables. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, green beans. All the fresh vegetables in season. Everything fresh,” Erickson said.

By offering fresh, local products, Erickson said the consumer is offered a choice of a high quality, better option. Since farm-to-table has made farmer’s markets and buying local trendy, Erickson said this type of business can be thought of as more high-end.

“We continuously get new people that haven’t heard of us, but many of the customers are returning customers,” Erickson said. “The most rewarding part of the business is seeing the people, selling to the people, seeing the looks on their face and having a good discussion with them. The comradery.” 

Area vendors also sell their products at his store, with products including salsa, jams, jellies, popcorn, granola, taco sauce and honey. Non-food products are available as well, also from local vendors. A partnership between Erickson and other local producers allow area residents to have even more fresh, homemade, and non-processed foods. Doesn’t hurt the vendors to have another place to sell their products either.

Another factor Hebbert appreciates is that the money goes to local families instead of big corporate stores. 

Andrew’s Garden started as a Future Farmers of America project 10 years ago where Erickson sold produce he grew in his garden, hence the name. Business was good and he added more greenhouses to keep the business going, even past his FFA days. 

Now with 15 greenhouses, Erickson’s business continues to grow as more people are becoming interested in knowing where their food comes from. He said the farm-to-table movement has had a huge, positive impact on his business and expects it to continue to help him grow.

Erickson’s produce is also sold at Hy-Vee, so even people who don’t make their way to his shop can still get the farm, fresh ingredients they want.

Andrew’s Garden is not the only local business impacted by the increase in the farm-to-table movement. Matthew Fritz, part owner of Fritz’s Meat in Holdrege, said the butcher shop gets their beef from Nebraska and Iowa producers.

“Our target market is basically people who want quality meat,” Fritz said. “We make our own bacon, beef stick and beef jerky. We focus mainly on choice, high choice cuts of steak and we make our own hamburger.” 

Fritz’s Meat is not a one-stop-shop where consumers can get all their groceries. Instead the store focuses on proving quality meat products that consumers know the origins of and can learn more about the production method by asking Fritz.

Holdrege does have a grocery store, but Fritz said he does not see them as being competitors. He said they work well with the grocery stores, and although the meat shop is small, they are good at what they do and they stay busy.

Being part of a small town, Erickson said he gets to know his customers and serve the community, which is the most rewarding part of his job.

In addition to being able to shop local and buy fresh produce and meat products, some people grew-up growing their own food, something that isn’t just for farm kids. A mid-western stereotype that proves true for Mackenzie Crowder, UNK senior from Waco majoring in advertising and public relations.

Crowder’s family had a garden where they raised their own produce, including: tomatoes, squash, sweet corn, potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and eggplant.

“We mainly had a garden so us kids had something to do during the summer. It taught us responsibility and how to take care of plants. We also grew our own vegetables because feeding six people can put strain on the grocery bill,” Crowder said. 

During her summers, Crowder would help hoe, pull weeds, plant and harvest. Some of the produce was raised from seed which were planted inside and transplanted into the garden later once the plant could handle the exterior elements.

From a young age, Crowder learned responsibility and she said it is from working in the garden with her family.

“We had to take care of it every day or if we let it go, that would just be more work for tomorrow. Also, nothing beats homegrown vegetables,” Crowder said.

Even though she doesn’t live at home to help with the garden anymore, Crowder still gets vegetables from her parents. However, their garden got hailed out this year so there is a limited amount to bring home to Kearney.

Some people take for granted knowing where their produce comes from, but Crowder said it is important to know and understand where food comes from and the production methods behind it all. By understanding the production methods, the consumer has a greater appreciation of their food and are more confident in their choices.

“Gardening is not that hard, you can do it yourself. Just take the chance to grow your own produce and save some money,” Crowder said. “You can’t beat the taste and you know where it came from and that no harmful pesticides are still on the produce. If it comes from a small farm or somewhere local, you know it’s fresh and the quality and taste will be good. When it comes from a mass producer, the taste is usually blander and not as high quality.”

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