- Mark A. Lee
- The Agrarian team (from left): Anne Collins, David Stuckert, Andrew Brake.
Move over, Tractors Supply Company, there's a new farm store in town. Town being the operative word: Agrarian Urban Homestead and Supply is a rustic oasis on a busy SoBro corner.
The front window showcases the shop's signature item, a henhouse on wheels - the same model that houses about a hundred happy flocks owned by Nap Town Chickens patrons. If that doesn't draw you through the door, consider the cedar-built raised bed, the local honey and honey pots, or the native bee houses hanging above a shelf of folksy "Farm Fresh Eggs" signs. Perhaps you'll walk out with your very own mushroom log, straight from Paoli, Ind., with plans for cultivating some nutritional powerhouses.
This is a farm store catering to the urban homesteader and lover of all things local. With about half of Agrarian's stock coming from local artisans and farmers, its customers can brag, "Even our hens are locavores." (The non-soy-based, GMO-free, organic chicken feed comes from Wanamaker, Shelbyville and Lebanon, where there is a mill onsite.)
The store came about because of the complementary interests and shared passions of proprietors Andrew Brake, Anne Collins and David Stuckert. Brake founded Nap Town Chickens in 2011 as a resource for the city's chicken farmers. He'd considered expanding that endeavor into a shop, but thought the demographic too narrow.
But Collins, who keeps her own flock and enjoys antiquing, thought urbanites would support a shop featuring an array of homespun supplies and gifts. Stuckert, a retired executive with carpentry skills, had built coops for NapTown's customers, and easily expanded into raised beds.
The threesome expect to draw customers from across the sustainability world. "If someone is a rainwater harvester," Brake says, "maybe they'll be interested in chicken farming, and we can turn them on to that."
- One of Agrarian's trademark hen houses on wheels.
Chicken farmers coming in to buy feed and supplies - the store's soft opening was in late August - are often drawn to the beehive, handmade by a local beekeeper and displayed with all the accoutrements. "Many chicken farmers say they want to do bees next," says Stuckert.
Brake adds, "We want to turn them into mushroom farmers, and they can do their canning, preserving... " In short, Agrarian expects to support the full cycle of small-scale urban farming. The trio plans to offer classes not only on chicken-keeping, but also on skills from lacto-fermentation to beekeeping to mushroom cultivation.
In fact, education is a key part of the shop's mission. With Animal Care and Control rescuing more fowl than ever before, starting flock owners off on solid footing can head off a lot of trauma.
"There's a wealth of knowledge and many have offered to come teach classes," says Collins. "We love to have the community involved."
Asked where this impulse to farm in the city comes from, Collins says, "I think people are out of touch with where their food comes from and how things are made, and are wanting to know that skill. So they're reinvestigating it and bringing back their roots."
She's assembled an enticing blend of items that fill that hunger for the nostalgic. Among the treasures are antique egg baskets that Grandma might have carried to the coop each morning as a girl. "I searched them all out by hand at flea markets because (when) I collect my eggs I like putting them in a vintage basket instead of a plastic one... It's a connection to the old ways of doing things."
Harkening back to the old-timey as well, Stuckert plans to build mobile raised beds modeled after old pushcarts from Europe.
In short, urbanites should be well-supported as they venture into a lifestyle that's new to some, but a longtime necessity to others.
As Brake points out, "Poor people have been doing it for a long time now. And now rich people are doing it... It's become a hip thing to do."
From his perch behind the long counter, he chuckles, "I've never been as cool as I am right now."