There are many rural areas across the region where residents must travel significant distances to shop at supermarkets. Keeseville, New York is about 25 miles south of Plattsburgh and its only supermarket closed several years ago. In 2017, a project to bring fresh locally produced food to underserved areas opened the first “Farmacy” – spelled with an “F” — in the state inside the Keeseville Pharmacy. This week the program will expand to a second village in rural Essex County.
As you walk into the Keeseville Pharmacy, to your right is fresh grown produce in coolers along one wall. Jars of locally made jellies, sauces, chutney, yogurt and butter are on shelves across from basic staples. At the end of one aisle is a display of cookbooks to go along with cooking classes that are offered.
This is the Farmacy – with an F – within the Keeseville Pharmacy – ph – the first in New York state. A-D-KAction Farmacy Project Coordinator Kiana French explains it began to provide local fresh food. “All the farmers harvest either once or twice a week. So you know when we get the deliveries in on Tuesday it was picked on Monday. So it’s really fresh. Having these local products on the shelf really allow you to know that it is fresh and you know exactly where it came from and when.”
French says they were looking for a business that had available space and was interested in the project. She says the Keeseville Pharmacy was extremely enthusiastic about the concept and donated the location. “When the grocery store in 2013 closed down next door the town was left without access to these full grocery items. So you’re either forced to shop at Stewart’s or Family Dollar, which is great, but a lot of times those businesses don’t have a lot of choices of fresh fruits and vegetables and the local products. And so that’s where this comes in is that we are able to stock and offer a lot of local produce as well as staples. It’s a centralized location downtown. It gets a lot of foot traffic and a lot of families already come in for prescriptions and other pharmacy needs. So it offers an opportunity for people who may not have the luxury of being able to have reliable transportation to get to those faraway places to find those staples right in a centralized location in Keeseville.”
A ribbon cutting ceremony is set for Wednesday at a newly opened second location at the Mountain Weavers Farm Store in Port Henry. French believes the program is flexible enough to meet the needs of rural communities. “The most wonderful thing about this project is that it is so fluid and it can meet the need for every single community. You know for example the Keeseville Pharmacy that need was met because there was no grocery store so we have grocery staples. Whereas Port Henry has a grocery store and so the need there was just basically a centralized location for local producers to sell their local products because they no longer have a farmers’ market. And so the need there was a little bit different and this model allows it to adapt. So this project could really expand to any community just depending on what their needs are. It really could fit the bill for a lot of different communities.”
Keeseville Pharmacy’ Jaimee Finnegan is amused by the reaction from customers who see farm produce available in a pharmacy. “Most people who are new to the area and who haven’t seen the project come in and say ‘Wow I’ve never seen a farm store inside of a pharmacy. That’s unique. That’s new.’ And the customers that have been here longer and seen it from the beginning they are super excited. They always come in and ask when we’re going to have blueberries, bananas, the bread of course which is super popular. We have pizzas. We had pizzas. They’ve been eaten out of house and home! And it’s just a great reaction from everybody. To see them every week and see what they want, see what they’re excited for.”
ADKAction plans to write a tool kit to help businesses to adopt the Farmacy model. The owner of the Keeseville Pharmacy, Dan Bosley, was awarded an Excellence in Innovation award from the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York for helping to create this first Farmacy in the state.