In running a small grocery store that works primarily with small and local farms and producers, you get to deal with situations that stores like Jewel and Whole Foods never even dream about (or have nightmares about as it were). On most days, I wouldn’t trade what we do and the way we do it for all the money in the grocery industry. There are, however, days where I wish I had the same stability and back up plans that these large and well established companies have. For example, can you imagine that a milk vendor would call Jewel and say “sorry our truck broke down so we can’t bring you any milk this week”? Of course not! Well, that was just the call that I got from our beloved Blue Marble Milk Farm last week.
For those of you not familiar with Blue Marble Farm, let me first say you are missing out and you should immediately go out and try any one of their delicious dairy products. That being said, they are a small, family-run dairy out of Barneveld, Wisconsin. Nick, his wife, and their six kids care for and milk about 75 cows that graze on 450 acres of pasture. Not only do they care for the animals and the land, they also pasteurize and bottle the milk right there on their property. This allows them complete quality control which in turn leads to “the best milk I’ve ever had” (this is a quote from a number of our customers). They also deliver their milk…well, most of the time.
After a much needed holiday hiatus for Nick and his family, I begged them to deliver to us right after the New Year, before they were originally planning to return to Chicago. It took a little convincing but he agreed and on January 2nd, he milked a huge order for us. My customers were chomping at the bit to get their much-loved milk back on January 3rd. Tragically, on the evening of the 2nd, we got a call from the farm that their one and only refrigerated truck broke down and would not be making it to Chicago. They needed a part, mechanic couldn’t get it, yadda yadda, we’ve all been there! So, we had no milk. Well, we were able to get a small amount of Organic Valley milk for emergency purchases but for most of our customers (who want Blue Marble only), we had no milk.Thankfully, by the following Wednesday their truck was repaired and they were able to bring us our order but it was a strange feeling to have to say to people “yes I own a grocery store and no, I have no milk”. It’s especially strange in a country like ours where we are rarely told no and can always find whatever we are looking for. Really, could you imagine walking into Dominicks and hearing they have no milk? No, they’ve got a bunch of distributors who are pumping out quantity to ensure they are never out. Quantity they’ve got but what about quality? When dealing on that large scale, it is nearly impossible get the taste and health benefits you get from foods produced by small, artisan, family-run operations. Yes, it sometimes would be nice to always have supply of something but if that were the case, I wonder what I’d risk losing in terms of quality. I suppose when it comes right down to it, I’d rather take my chances with Nick and his old truck.