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Beyond farmers markets: New stores in Wyoming expand the reach of local foods

Hannah Habermann Apr 24, 2024
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Lander rancher Anna Smedts with her two pigs on her farm outside of town. Hannah Habermann/Wyoming Public Media

Beyond farmers markets: New stores in Wyoming expand the reach of local foods

Hannah Habermann Apr 24, 2024
Heard on:
Lander rancher Anna Smedts with her two pigs on her farm outside of town. Hannah Habermann/Wyoming Public Media
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On a little hill just outside the town of Lander, Wyoming, two pigs munch on bits of sourdough bread near stacks of hay bales.

“These are some of the luckier pigs in the county,” says Anna Smedts, a local farmer. “They have access to some corn, but they’re raised mostly on scraps from the local restaurants, extras from the bakery and the Chinese restaurant in town.”

While these pigs are lucky for now, they might end up at Meadowlark Market, a new food store a couple of miles down the road. New stores like it are giving producers a way to sell their goods that’s a little more consistently open than your typical farmers market. 

Meadowlark Market is in an airy brick building on Main Street. It’s opening day, and shoppers browse shelves stocked with locally made crusty baguettes and bushels of fresh basil. In the freezer, there’s lamb, chicken and pork.

Suza Bedient is perusing a display of seasonings on a long, wooden table in the center of the room. She lives just a couple of blocks away.

“​​I really love good meat, well-grown meat, and I love lamb, which is not easy to find in our Safeway,” Bedient says. “I’m very excited that it’s easy to get here and affordable.”

Today, all 50 states have some sort of cottage food law, which allows the average person to sell things like homemade brownies at a school fundraiser without the fuss of going through a food inspection. But in Wyoming, a law has expanded the kinds of foods that can be sold and how the selling is done.

Meadowlark is designed to be a year-round, one-stop shop for customers. Melissa Hemken, who helped start the store, says it’s easy for producers too.

“It provides them a lot more flexibility. They may have young kids, they gotta go feed their cows, they don’t need to be here to sell their product.”

Hemken runs a poultry hatchery 4 miles outside of town and has a full-time job at the local community college.

“I don’t have time to run an egg route, I get requested a lot for eggs. I’m not able to deliver or really even set a time often that I’ll be home for eggs,” she says.

Hemken says farmers markets are a great place to meet customers, but they typically happen only once a week. Plus, it’s a lot of work to set up and break down a booth, so being able to sell her products at the store is a real time-saver.

“Meadowlark will just make it way easier. I can just say, ‘Hey, go down to Meadowlark. Whatever I have available is down there,’” she says.

Baskets of bread with clear labeling to inform shoppers that the product has been created in a home kitchen and is under the Wyoming Food Freedom Act.
Loaves of bread on display at Meadowlark, with clear labeling to inform shoppers that the product has been created in a home kitchen and is covered by the Wyoming Food Freedom Act. (Hannah Habermann/Wyoming Public Media)

This kind of space is possible because of the Wyoming Food Freedom Act. Under the law, producers can sell a wide range of foods without licenses or certifications, as long as the consumer is properly informed about the food’s source. That’s a big difference from most typical cottage food laws, which are often restricted to things like breads, jams and baked goods.

A 2023 amendment to the Wyoming law allows a store like Meadowlark to serve as what’s called a designated agent to sell these products. “Meadowlark never purchases it; they just hold it in their spaces,” Hemken said. “Then, they’re the designated agent to sell it for me as a producer.”

The market takes up to a 25% commission from all sales. Meadowlark also has a commercial kitchen that producers can rent, Hemken said.

“As businesses are looking to scale up, like they can’t fit any more in their home kitchen or they just need to separate family and business a little bit, they can come here for whatever hours they need,” she said.

So, a cucumber farmer could come to pickle or a dairy producer could use the kitchen to make yogurt. The commercial certification then allows the farmer to sell that product to bigger grocery stores.

As customer Suza Bedient checks out, she says she’s excited about all her finds. But one product is missing. She loves Farmer Fred’s sauerkraut, but only the green cabbage version is for sale right now.

“This is the best sauerkraut in town. I’d buy the big bucket, except for I want the purple stuff,” she says.

Bedient says that’s all the more reason to come back soon.

An older woman in a red shirt and blue scarf writes on a sheet of paper on a table, near containers of basil and honey.
Lander resident Suza Bedient offers suggestions for improvement at the new Meadowlark Market & Kitchen at the store’s opening day event. (Hannah Habermann/Wyoming Public Media)

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