"We have added $7.5 million in sales into the local food economy," Kathy Sample says.
by Mary Beth Lewis
From the September, 2019 issue
Out-of-towners might first notice the Argus Farm Stops on Liberty and Packard for their folksy decor, including real cornstalks. But in the five years since the Liberty location opened in August 2014, Argus has gone beyond style and idealism to have impressive impact on the lives of locals. Customers enjoy a year-round farmers' market, and the producers have a convenient revenue source--they drop off their goods then days later pick up profits and returns. It's a seemingly simple model that has been remarkably successful.
"We've grown from thirty-five farms to 200, and I feel we are accomplishing our goal of growing the local agricultural economy," says Sample, who founded the low-profit limited liability company (LC3) with her husband, Bill Brinkerhoff, and a third investor, Scott Fleck. "We want southeast Michigan to be a desirable place for new farmers to set up their operations and for the consumers to be less dependent on produce, meat, and dairy from far away.
"Consumers are learning more about the benefits of a local food economy. We appreciate when they vote with their dollars for local products--whether at Argus, at one of the farmers' markets in the area, and through CSAs"--community-supported agriculture commitments to individual farms.
Some of the wares at Argus come from small-scale producers--the Land Loom, for example, offers velvety jewel-green spinach and salad greens from its Tilian Farm Development Center home. At the other end of the spectrum, Sample says, their top twenty farm providers generate an average of $44,000 apiece in annual sales. Since they keep seventy-five cents of every dollar, they take home an average of $33,000 a year from Argus.
They also get a free drink from the Argus coffee bar during drop-offs and a chance to sit and visit with customers, other producers, and a few of the forty-plus Argus employees. Some of those employees are also providers--of baked goods, crafts, and even yoga classes at the Liberty location.
Recent developments include Argus Hub, "a platform through which local chefs and (small) institutional food purchasers can buy from our farms," Sample says. Beer and wine licenses were just issued to both Ann Arbor locations.
Argus has already inspired one other Farm Stop: Chelsea's Agricole opened in July. Its manager, Chelsea native Brogan Darwin, spent three years at Argus.
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