By Amanda Waldroupe
Robert Litt, owner of the Urban Farm Store on SE Belmont Street in Portland, sells chickens, worms, cheese kits, brewing supplies, feed and hay, and offers classes and advice.
// Photo by Alexandra Shyshkina
When the chickens came home to roost, so did the urban farm store business.
City policies allowing backyard chicken keeping, a backlash against globalization and people’s interest in living more sustainably are driving the creation of the new niche business, which Kristl Bridge, co-owner of the 6-month-old Portland Homestead Supply Co., says fits “somewhere between a feed store and a hardware store.”
At least six Portland urban farm stores and one in Eugene have opened in the last three years, offering a diverse array of products — everything from canning supplies, cider presses and meat grinders to how-to books and baby chicks — to meet the demands and interests of urban homesteaders. Bridge's store also has a bike-powered grain grinder for those seeking to grind their own flour and simultaneously burn calories.
Many of the stores also offer how-to classes teaching people a skill and how to use related equipment, which helps increase sales. “We’ve had a lot of people come in who are doing their own home preserves and need supplies,” Bridge says.
Also crucial to attracting a wide customer base and making homesteading accessible to newbies is selling products in small quantities. It also helps shorten any seasonal dips in sales. “Everything is scaled to the backyard and home kitchen,” says Robert Litt, owner of Portland’s 2-year old Urban Farm Store.
Stores like Bridge's or Litt’s are too new to identify revenue or profit trends. But “all indications point toward long-term success,” says Bill Bezuk, owner of 18-month-old Eugene Backyard Farmer.
But Bezuk and Litt worry whether this generation’s version of the back-to-the-land movement is here to stay. “Chickens are extremely popular right now,” Bezuk says. “But what is going to be the next big thing?”
The answer to Bezuk’s question may determine whether urban farm stores spread. Litt and Bezuk both say they’d like to open new stores in other parts of Oregon if there are enough do-it-yourselfers out there. But, “I can’t see it exploding at the rate it is now,” Litt says.
Being flexible and nimble with store inventory and customer’s interests may prove key. Portland Homestead Supply recently ordered charcuterie supplies because hunters came in looking for supplies to make venison sausage. “You have to be prepared for everything,” Bridge says.
// Photos by Alexandra Shyshkina
(Click to enlarge)