ENOSBURG — Ten years ago, Pat and Kirsten Hayes sold their organic dairy farm and 150 Holstein dairy cows to start a new career.
But after two years of trying out other jobs, the Hayes’ finally decided to pursue their longtime dream of owning a natural foods store and market. The small but mighty Wood Meadow Market on Main Street in Enosburg was soon born.
“It had been a rough winter that year,” Kirsten said. “And I was tired of milking...and Pat had always wanted us to have a farm store, but we were just really busy. So it never happened. Then it did.”
What was it like starting up?
“I actually didn’t tell a lot of people about opening the store, because I knew I’d be selling to a lot of people who knew more about it than I did,” Kirsten said. “I didn’t know if we’d be able to be successful at it...but we had a couple of get-togethers to ask people what they wanted us to carry.”
Kirsten said other local business owners, like Doug Flack of Flack Family Farm in Fairfield, helped mentor the new business owners through the delicate process of starting a store and not going broke.
Initially, the Hayes said each and every one of their bulk food price labels was hand-written by Pat. Now, they have a labelling machine that makes day-to-day much easier.
What were some of the hardest challenges of opening your own business?
“You think opening accounts is easy, but it’s not,” Kirsten said. “Companies vet you, and sometimes it takes several weeks to get an account up and running...I needed to know our equipment a little better. I remember thinking ‘I can’t wait until we’ve been open for six months, because then it will be comfortable...but every time we had a question about something, the right person came across our path and had an answer for us.”
Kirsten said she visited a natural foods store in Randolph with her sister and picked the brain of the owner there who said their produce and bulk foods scale was the heart of their store.
So the Hayes bought a scale for about $1800 dollars.
What did the store first look like?
“It didn’t look like this,” Kirsten said. “We evolved over time. Pat built all of the shelving and all of the big bins, all of the shelving on the walls. We didn’t have very much product immediately.”
The store features classic farm bins housing oats and flours for self-serve gathering in addition to bulk-available items like herbs, spices and powders.
How did you decide what to stock in your store?
“We had a clipboard here for a long time where people would put suggestions on what they wanted to find,” Kirsten said. “We’re largely customer-driven, but we stock local, vegan, gluten-free items and now we’re starting to stock keto-friendly items too.”
Kirsten said because their accounts are all in bulk, sometimes they will also order for other local companies who may not have an account with a distributor and sell it to the buyer at cost-value.
“We just as a courtesy order it for them,” Kirsten said. “We do would hope they would do that for us, but people have helped us out. We look out for each other.”
The Hayes said they also occasionally place custom bulk orders for customers who want to buy larger orders of things.
“We were farmers,” Pat said. “It’s our way of giving back to the farm families around here.”
What was it like running a store during COVID?
“Mid-March, it was overwhelming,” Kirsten said. “Because people were staying home and stocking up. Our business has grown steadily every year and we are still growing. Last year, we grew so much in one year. Business was through the roof.”
The Hayes said most of their customers were baking and cooking their own products, quarantining and coming in for larger quantities. Kirsten compared every day to “Christmas Eve,” which was historically Wood Meadow Market’s biggest sale day of the year.
“Now we still see days like that one or two days a week,” Kirsten said.
Are you thinking of expanding?
Though the Hayes staff the store themselves, they said they’re contemplating the transition from their ownership to someone else eventually. Possibly one of their children, they said.
“Space is tight, but we really love this particular space,” Kirsten said. “We had a ten-year-plan anyway when we started, but we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“In two years I’ll be seventy,” Pat said. “If we were ten years younger, things would be different.”