Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Craig Howard opens his 24/7, members-only sustainable market

Howard's Organic Fare & Vegetable Patch is a different kind of market.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 6, 2012 at 8:00 AM

The scene at Howards grand opening on First Friday.
  • The scene at Howard's grand opening on First Friday.
The hoop-house garden adjacent to Howard's Organic Fare and Vegetable Patch is visible from southbound Interstate 71. The greenhouse's white, circular ribs stand out improbably, like dinosaur bones bleaching in the sun, next to delivery trucks and construction vehicles.

Howard's is no less surprising. The market at 900 East 21st Street is a happy mash-up of a supermarket, food cooperative and farmers market - an innovative approach to selling everything needed for dinner from farmsteads within a few hours' drive of Kansas City.

Chef Craig Howard, the market's namesake, has slowly transformed a corner office space in the City Arts Project building into his vision of a sustainable market where the produce sells itself, leaving farmers to farm rather than staff tables at farmers markets and road-side stands.

Howard hopes to attract 60 members who are each willing to pay a $60 annual fee to shop at his store. (Membership applications are found at howardskcmo.com). A key to the store's security gate on 21st Street will be kept in a safe, similar to those found out-side homes for sale, and a punch code will give access to an exterior door. Howard has also installed a security camera and will take inventory daily.

"You get 24/7 access to local produce, and that membership fee allows me to keep prices down," Howard says. "Also, it can be a community where people tell me what they like, and the store evolves."

Nothing says welcome like barbecue.
  • Nothing says welcome like barbecue.
At last Friday's grand-opening party, Howard grilled sausages and offered Amigoni wine and Boulevard beer in the space he rebuilt. (The store's floor, in the former office in the now century-old Ice Co. Building, is a patchwork of wooden planks and bricks that he salvaged.)

"It was a big scavenger hunt," Howard says. "Anytime I saw a Dumpster filled with wood, I stopped. Whatever I had in the back of my truck, I'd piece together on that day. One day, I bought out all the wood at the Waldo [Habitat for Humanity] ReStore for $26. So the floor probably cost me $26."

Inside the store, a large wall chalkboard keeps an oversized list. Two squares are checked off: "health department permit" and "open store." Howard has installed a small bookshelf in what was once a closet door; here, he keeps his collection of cookbooks that he has used since high school.

Curious shoppers check out the central shelf.
  • Curious shoppers check out the central shelf.
Shopping baskets are kept next to a a two-tiered wooden shelf of dry goods (Boys Grow salsa; Oddly Correct coffee; organic pasta, rice, flour, sugar, vinegar, oil, mustard and ketchup, chocolate; and a host of cleaning and personal-care products from Indigo Wild, the makers of Zum Bar soap). Bright-red tomatoes from Wayne Stoll Farm are piled high in two cardboard boxes near the end of the lower shelf.

Two refrigerators and a freezer line the store's south wall. One refrigerator contains meat and eggs; once Howard settles on a supplier, it will also have milk. A former Pepsi fridge holds pattypan squash; uncured garlic from Muroak Farm; and kale, arugula, spinach and cabbage from New Roots for Refugees. The freezer keeps chicken, pork roast, ground beef, beef roast and bacon from Pisciotta Farms.

"The store will have a price-calculating scale [by punching in the price per pound], so if you only need a few radishes, you don't have to buy a whole bunch and then have them go bad in your fridge," says Howard, walking past a rocking chair and a varnished tree stump that has been made into an end table.

So far, he has lined up six farmers, but he's hoping the number will grow to 20 in the coming months.

"I'm hoping farmers will come by the store after farmers markets and leave their lefto-vers," Howard says. "That way, they don't have to drive home with 10 pounds of rad-ishes and just feed it to the chickens."

Howard also plans to augment products with produce from the garden outside his store (he's planting melons).

Local produce is the focus of the shop.
  • Local produce is the focus of the shop.
The main delivery day likely will be Thursdays, when local farmers make a majority of their restaurant deliveries. Howard plans to keep his store's members updated on the lat-est arrivals with e-mails and photos posted on the shop's website.

Howard is still cooking for Blue Bird Bistro, and he hopes to transition to working in his place full time once the store gets running. When he does that, he plans to offer cooking classes to members, on throwing a dinner party or on planning meals in their kitchens.

"I want to teach people how to make good food, whether they've got a campfire or a pro-fessional kitchen," Howard says.

Next month, Howard resumes his Sunday-night dinners in the City Arts space. This time, the ingredients come from his grocery store.

"I still want to cook," Howard says, "I just want to decide what I cook."

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