© 2024 Wyoming Public Media
800-729-5897 | 307-766-4240
Wyoming Public Media is a service of the University of Wyoming
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

Getting local food on local plates: a look into Wyoming Food Freedom stores

Four people pose for a picture in front of a local food storefront.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Wind River Slow Food board members (from left) Colin Hemens, Hannah Darrin, Lisa McCauley, Lindsay Guerin, Linda Williamson in front of Meadowlark Market & Kitchen on its opening day.

Local foods stores throughout the state are giving producers another option to get food onto Wyoming plates – an option that’s a little more consistent than your typical farmers market.

Inside Meadowlark Market & Kitchen in Lander, shoppers browse shelves stocked with colorful jams, loaves of flour-dusted sourdough and bushels of fresh basil.

“I really love good, well-grown meat. And I love lamb, which is not easy to find in our Safeway,” said Suza Bedient.

Bedient lives in town and is perusing a display of seasonings on a long wooden table in the center of the room.

A woman browses jars on a table.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Lander resident Suza Bedient checks out different local products at Meadowlark Market. She said she’s looking forward to the community the space might create and the ability to get certain hard-to-find products more consistently.

“I'm very excited that it's easy to get here and affordable,” she said.

It’s opening day at the market, which is part of the Wind River Slow Food project, a Lander-based non-profit. They want to provide a one-stop shop where customers like Bedient can get food from local producers all year round.

“It provides [producers] a lot more flexibility,” said Melissa Hemken, who helped start the store.

“They may have young kids, they’ve gotta go feed their cows, they don't need to be here to sell their product. And they don't need to be here for the customer to get their product, which is helpful on that customer side as well,” she said.

Hemken also runs a chicken hatchery called Melissahof Hatchery four miles outside of Lander 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, but I'm not able to deliver or really even set a time often that I’ll be home for eggs,” she said.

A woman writes a note on a laminated sheet with an erasable marker.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Local producer Melissa Hemken writes instructions on a sign to help direct customers at Meadowlark to find her chickens in the back freezer.

While she does sell her products online, being able to sell her poultry, eggs and garlic at the store will be 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 said.

This kind of space is possible in part because of the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, which passed in 2015. Under the act, producers can sell food without licenses or inspections in certain situations.

“They can try out grandma's recipe and see if they like it and go sell at the farmers market direct-to-consumer,” said Hemken.

An amendment to the act adopted in 2023 allows stores like Meadowlark to serve as a “designated agent” for those producers, which keeps everyone in good standing with the Food Freedom Act.

“Meadowlark never purchases it, they just hold it in their spaces and then they're the designated agent to sell it for me as a producer,” said Hemken.

Loaves of bread sit in a basket. A note in front of them explains that they were made in a home kitchen that hasn't been inspected.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Loaves of bread on display at the market, with clear labeling to inform shoppers that the product has been created in a home kitchen and is under the Wyoming Food Freedom Act.

The market doesn’t get paid by producers, but instead takes up to a 25 percent commission from all sales for their role as designated agent. While three people are being paid for part of their work with the project, the market is currently staffed completely by volunteer hours.

Board member Linda Williamson said the market is also possible because of more interest in greenhouses and processes like fermentation.

“The really powerful truth that came out of this is that there is food grown and available year round,” she said.

The pandemic helped many people realize how fragile supply chains can be. Board member Joanne Slingerland said those transportation-related issues have increased interest in local foods.

“Trucking produce to a community from thousands of miles away, it doesn't last as long in your refrigerator, plus it’s lost a lot of its nutritional value,” she said.

One of the people helping keep it local is Anna Smedts, a long-time Lander resident and rancher. In the late afternoon of opening day at Meadowlark Market, two pigs munch on bits of sourdough bread near stacks of hay bales on her farm outside of town.

“These are some of the luckier pigs in the county. 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,” she said.

A woman stands in front of two pigs in a pen.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Lander rancher Anna Smedts with her two pigs on her farm outside of town.

Smedts produces pretty much anything you can think of – all sorts of meat, fresh veggies, and alfalfa. She’s currently selling beef, honey and eggs at Meadowlark and is part of the Slow Foods Wind River board.

Given the size of her business, Smedts said the market is more of a supplemental source of income, but more than happy to help fill in any gaps in the store’s shelves.

“I hope this re-emphasizes that what we make here locally is just so valuable and delicious and nutritious. And with the economy and keeping our money here, why pay to shuttle something away and then re-buy it in a different form coming back in?” she said.

Smedts is optimistic about the market’s start and also recognizes how much work went into the first day.

“Today was a huge sale day. Already I can see that, just crunching the numbers,” she said.

But the real question is whether those sales will continue over time.

“I'm hoping that the kitchen gets going,” she said. “That rent is way easier to collect than people haggling over the price of a shallot.”

Meadowlark has a commercially inspected kitchen that people can rent to help scale up their product or be able to sell it wholesale rather than through the Wyoming Food Freedom Act.

A small commercial kitchen.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
Meadowlark’s commercially inspected kitchen, which they hope to rent out hourly, daily, and monthly based on producer needs.

They’re also planning to host cooking classes and pop-up dinners from local chefs, all of which will hopefully keep the market afloat.

Jenn Faulkner is the local foods coordinator at the University of Wyoming Ag Extension. She said a lot of the local foods stores use supplemental grant funding to get off the ground, but those funds are limited and often run out.

“I think they face a lot of challenges that a lot of startup businesses have. Securing funds to establish themselves is a hardship,” she said.

There are currently thirteen of these stores operating around the state, from Casper to Sheridan to Laramie. But Faulkner said managing all the logistics that come with this business model is no cakewalk.

“Conventional markets have some pretty streamlined processes in place that these markets are having to be a little more creative around,” she said.

Morgan Doyle is the manager at Fremont Local Market in Riverton and knows the ins-and-outs of that creativity firsthand.

“The paperwork, the structure here, the systems that we use to operate – that was a learning curve, but, knock on wood, I think we've got that pretty well mastered now,” she said.

Looking through a doorway to a sunny room. The doorway has signs around it reading "Hey Friends" "welcome" and "Fremont Local Market."
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
The sun-lit entrance to Fremont Local Market, located on the corner of Main Street and 6th Street in Riverton.

Fremont Local Market has been open for about a year and a half and has been a big resource for the folks at Meadowlark in their start-up process. Doyle said the store has reached a solid equilibrium with consistently bringing in products from a wide range of producers throughout the different seasons.

“We're going in the right direction, we are super close to being sustainable. We have over 90 producers here, with just about every type of product you can imagine, from crafts to food and your grocery staples,” she said.

Jars filled with different colored fillings on shelves.
Hannah Habermann
Wyoming Public Media
An array of Wyoming-made pickles, relishes, jellies, jams and tallow balm at Fremont Local Market.

Doyle’s dad Steve was part of the original group that helped get the store started. He said their next plan is to build a coffee bar and to continue helping others start similar stores in their own communities.

“We have a lady coming up from Rawlins, they want to develop their own Wyoming food freedom store. We've had several of these [visits], so we’re pretty stoked on that,” he said.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.
Related Content