Oct 26, 2010
College, farm market merger still going strong

In spring 2009, Shady Brook Farm – a farm, market and garden center just north of Philadelphia – agreed to run Delaware Valley College’s farm market.

DelVal, as it’s known, is in Doylestown, Pa. It started the market in 2003 but had to close it after only four seasons. It’s now known as The Market at Delaware Valley College by Shady Brook Farm.

The family that owns Shady Brook Farm, the Flemings, agreed to manage the college’s market and sell their own products at the new location (as well as products from other local suppliers). The college agreed to provide products its students raised on almost 200 acres of land, plus incorporate the market into its agricultural curriculum as a hands-on place where students could work and learn how to run a retail facility.

More than a year after the merger, Dave Fleming Jr., general manager of both markets, said the college market’s sales had exceeded expectations, but so had its expenses. He admitted there’ve been some growing pains.

Added to the expected challenges of running an extra market – scheduling employees, figuring out the right menu (they learned that simpler, “comfort” foods such as sandwiches worked better at the new market than the “high-end” foods they started out making) – there’s been the challenge of merging a profit-driven business with an education-oriented institution. The mindsets, and goals, aren’t always the same.

They’re working through the issues, though, and have built a strong foundation for the future of the partnership. It’s been a good experience overall, Dave said.

“We’ve tried to make ourselves better managers,” he said. “It hasn’t been perfect, but we’re getting better at it.”

Customer reactions at DelVal have been mixed. Some people have been very receptive. Others have had a hard time accepting the relationship between the college and farm, Dave said.

The DelVal market has three departments: farm market, garden center and kitchen. Each department has its own managers – two of whom are DelVal grads. Dave spends two or three days a week at the DelVal market. His brother Paul is there a lot, too. The college is about 18 miles from the home market.

DelVal has about 2,000 students. The college has lots of agricultural programming – backed by actual work in production and marketing. Half the students graduate with agricultural majors. The campus contains 571 acres, with 200 devoted to crop production. Some 50 acres are in apple orchards and vegetable crops like pumpkins, sweet corn, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, tomatoes, peppers and zucchini. There’s also an equine program, an animal science program with hogs, beef and poultry and a 60-cow dairy.

Two of the college’s graduates are Ed Fleming, class of 1953, and David Fleming Sr., class of 1963. Dave’s sons David Jr. and Paul, their sister Amy and their mother Beverley all play roles in managing Shady Brook Farm, along with Ed’s daughter Wendy.

Shady Brook’s farming operation, run by Paul, is large and diversified in fruit and vegetable production. The market side, managed by David Jr., sells the farm’s produce and has a garden center large enough to be a stand-alone business, plus a deli, ice cream shop and winery.

The winery provides grape and other fruit wines for the market and is a good base for seasonal concerts. People come to relax, listen to live music by local musicians and buy wine by the bottle or glass.

Shady Brook is also an agritainment enterprise, with tours and concerts, hayrides and Easter egg hunts, a corn maze, Halloween activities and a holiday light show. U-pick strawberries, raspberries, apples, peaches and pumpkins are a large part of the business, too.

The farm market, which began as a roadside produce stand, was expanded to its current size in 2004, when the deli was added. The market also sells bedding plants, trees, shrubs, hanging baskets, garden supplies and mulch.

By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor

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