Word on the Street: North Fork farm hopes to crowd-fund grocery store

The Fresno BeeJuly 6, 2014 

In a North Fork basement behind the visitor's center, there's a door with a keypad on it. Members of the Kern Family Farm co-op know the code and are trusted with the bounty inside.

It's not gold, it's greens.

Hansel and Sue Kern with their four kids make up the Kern Family Farm crew. Right now, they sell their fruits and vegetables on the honor system to the more than 200 members of their co-op.

But they're aiming to expand their little store to serve the entire North Fork community — all 3,100 residents. If all goes according to plan, Kern hopes to open in late summer or early fall of 2015.

The family's dream already has gotten a boost from the town's dentist, Edmund Fey. They've put up the undisclosed initial cost to convert the site of a former coin laundry, located at 32954 Road 222, into a 1,200-square-foot store.

But the Kerns still need money to paint and equip the store with things like shelving, bulk bins, sinks, display cases, packaging, seating and refrigeration and freezing units that cost $12,000 alone.

So they've started a crowd-funding campaign through IndieGoGo.com, similar to kickstarter.com. Their goal is to raise $30,000 by Aug. 12. As of July 3, they had raised $3,020.

If their goal is not reached by the end date, the Kerns will have to pay 9% of what they do get to IndieGoGo.com. They only have to pay 4% of the total — $1,200 — if their goal is reached in time.

"What we're trying to do is attract these people who are leaving to Fresno or Oakhurst to get these foods," said Hansel Kern.

Typically, North Fork residents drive out of town to get their organic fix, Kern said. By opening this store, Kern hopes to keep money local to help the economy.

As a certified egg producer, Kern wants to offer fresh eggs from chickens on his farm as well as seasonal fruits and vegetables in the store. Down the line, Kern wants to become a micro-dairy using goat's milk to make artisanal cheeses.

"We're not trying to be another Whole Foods," Kern said. "We just want to be a family-run store, like a country store."

Salazar's salsa hits shelves

Bobby Salazar's salsa and bean dip is landing on the shelves of hundreds of grocery stores in the western U.S. and the nation.

The Fowler-based company expanded distribution within the past few weeks to an additional 200 Vons stores in Southern California. The salsa has been sold at local Vons stores for the past eight or nine years, said company president Bobby Salazar.

The salsa verde, medium salsa and Fiesta bean dip are now in about 2,000 stores total. Shoppers can find them at Albertsons, Winco, FoodMaxx, Save Mart and Walmart stores from Alaska to Hawaii, and about 20 Costco stores in California.

The salsa is made in a factory near Highway 99 and Manning Avenue that employs 50 people. The expansion has led to additional jobs as the company hires people to work in the territories where the salsa is sold.

Chowchilla nut cooperative adds new huller and sheller

Minturn Huller Cooperative of Chowchilla held an open house June 27 to showcase its new, state-of-the-art almond huller and sheller.

This is the third addition to the Madera County almond processing facility that last year produced more than 80 million meat pounds of almonds. With the new huller and sheller, Minturn expects to nearly double its capacity, processing more than 150 million pounds during this harvest.

Joe Marchini, director at Minturn's plant, said the $24 million project took about two years to complete. The 61,000-square-foot structure houses the processing equipment, bulk shipping and warehouse.

Mike Beeler, owner and president of Beeler Industries, which designed and built the new huller, said it is probably one of the largest in the Valley.

Because the process of removing the debris and almond hulls is a potential source of air emissions, the new equipment aims to minimize dust, increase sanitation and allow the processed nuts to be loaded onto trucks in an environmentally controlled space.

Plant supervisor Jeff George said the new facility can process about 800,000 pounds of almonds per day.

George said the new plant also helped create jobs, as two 10-person shifts have been added to operate the new equipment.

The new processing project is scheduled to start working in mid-July for the upcoming harvest.

Minturn Hullers opened in 1966 and has grown from 120 members to 300. In the past four seasons, processing has lasted until mid-January.

Helen Tracey-Noren, Bethany Clough and the Merced Sun-Star's Ana B. Ibarra contributed to Word on the Street. It was compiled by Tracey-Noren. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6279, htraceynoren@fresnobee.com, or @HtraceyNoren on Twitter.

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