The market outlier

The market outlier

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AT TOP: Kruger's brand of salad dressings.
ABOVE: Kruger's markets sell affordable produce, Ghanaian baskets and other goods.
// Photos by Alexandra Shyshkina
Kruger shrank his staff and production and plodded along until 2004 when he got a call from his ex-brother-in-law about a batch of Ghanaian baskets he had acquired from a wholesaler. “I told him to send me 75 and I’ll give it a run,” he says. “They sold out that weekend.” That fall, he bought 8,000 baskets and sold a third by the end of the year. He then went to a North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association trade show in Sacramento to set up distribution to farms throughout the country.

Within a year he went from bankruptcy to a solid financial footing. He now sells roughly 40,000 baskets a year nationally, worth $500,000 in gross sales. With the added capital from the basket sales and with a firmer grasp on how to manage his farm, he started allowing weddings on his property.

In 2008 he bought the front 75 acres he had leased and entered into aggressive payback lease agreement for an additional 75 acres on an adjoining property. But Multnomah County said his wedding events violated land-use laws. After two years and $60,000 in legal fees, Kruger lost the case and with it a fourth of his income. Using what money and strained credit he had left, Kruger decided to do what he had wanted to do for nearly a decade. He was going to grow food and sell it in simple, low-overhead markets instead of high-overhead upscale markets. He started an open-air market in St. Johns in June 2010 and secured the lease at open-air produce market Uncle Paul’s in southeast Portland later that year.

Nearly two years later, Kruger’s Farm Markets are filled with affordable produce from Kruger’s old produce connections and his farm, and Ghanaian baskets. The southeast Portland market also has fish and meat from local vendor Flying Fish. He plans to invest $50,000 into the St. Johns Farm Stand to set up food carts, a bakery and a stand for Flying Fish. The 59-year-old Kruger is something of an outlier in the business. Few middle-age operators make the transition from traditional farm production to farm-direct, a transition that requires farmers to understand inventory management and have critical people skills.

“I could have four [markets]” says the unsinkable Kruger, who in the past always believed he was right.

“Whether it’s the right thing for me to do … I’m not sure about that.”