Remember the '70s sitcom "CHEERS"? Their theme song went “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name” (by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo). The setting was a bar in Boston where a certain group of people always met in the evenings and became good friends. Rural America has a variation on this. The song still applies, but the setting is somewhat different. It is the local feed store.
Going to the feed store is a vital part of farm life. Its not like going shopping for groceries, or to the mall. The feed store is where you connect with your neighbors and people who really know their product and can give advice. We have several feed stores in our area, but the one we rely on is the Marion County Feed Store.
I've been going to this particular feed store most of my life. When I was a child, it was a wonderful, mysterious place. The workers were always there at the loading dock and they would greet Daddy by name. As they stood and visited for a few moments, I would drift into the cool, dim warehouse and wander among the stacks of grain. There was always a cat living in there to keep the mice down, and if I was lucky she would have kittens that I could play with. All the grain was in burlap bags and the smell permeated the entire room. I still love the smell of fresh grain.
Daddy would go to the office to place his order, and then one of the workers would load a dolly with sacks and take it to the dock where he and anyone not loading another vehicle would begin to toss the sacks into the back of our pickup. Sometimes it would take several trips to finish the load. I would go skipping along with them, watching the loading and unloading. Sometimes if there were only two or three bags left, they would give me a ride on the dolly. Daddy always made sure that there was a space in the middle of the load so I could settle down in it and ride there all the way back home, either reading a book I had brought with me or just lying back and looking at the clouds. Daddy would get arrested for letting me do that today...
While the atmosphere is not quite so relaxed anymore due to safety regulations, the welcoming presence is still very much there. Just the other day we went by to pick up some grain and as my husband got out of the car one of the dock workers called to him, “Hey Greg! How's it going?” A neighbor was already there being loaded and my husband fell into conversation with them.
“How's the sheep?”
“Doing good. Wish I could say the same about the garden.”
“Yeah, squash bugs everywhere. No matter what I do.”
“Me too! I've tried everything.”
And so the conversation went. Troubles shared, opinions given, advice offered. Troubles all the same. Then we went inside to be again welcomed by name.
“What will it be today?”
“Two sacks of chopped corn, two egg crumble”
“Need birdseed or all grain?”
“Not today. How's your garden?”
“Doing okay, but sure wish it would rain.”
And so it goes. Then back outside where we are quickly loaded. They still bring the small orders out on dollies, but big loads are now brought by forklift. And the sacks are paper not burlap. I know it cuts the cost to the customer, and we use those paper sacks for a variety of things, but I do miss the old ways.
One of the neatest things about the Marion County Feed Store is that they will mix feeds to your specifications. One lady in the area who has goats gets a special blend of her own making. She has agreed that they can sell her mix to others, so it is common to hear someone order the Maddie Keifer mix.
Approximately 25 years ago the new office was built next to the dock. I'm not sure what it looked like before then, because as a child I was only concerned with the warehouse and all its contents. The new office has a variety of things to offer, from garden seed to pet supplies to car care supplies to farm tools. Every spring they special order chicks for customers, and there are scheduled "fish days" when a truck with live fish comes by so farmers can stock their ponds.
This truly is a place where “everyone knows your name” and you can truly feel welcome. And that is the essence of farm life.