An empty shell will sit at 110 Keller Avenue in Amery. What will become of it is unknown. The spot was once three buildings holding various businesses throughout the history of Amery. A large construction process combined to become a food hub in 2013 with an outdoor patio. From then until last Sunday, the Farm Table served up locally produced food to in-house diners.
It came to the surprise of many when Farm Table made a post last Friday on Facebook, announcing they would be closing at the end of that weekend. It left many wondering what happened?
A food hub was a relatively new concept when it began in Amery. A co-op of farmers, a non-profit organization and a for-profit business shared a common goal of adding value to locally produced food.
The concept for the building contained three different businesses: a farmers cooperative, a restaurant and a non-profit organization that educates people about locally produced food.
Over the years, things changed. A non-profit formed in 2017 called Farm Table Foundation that absorbed Farm Table LLC. A married couple, Kari Wegner and Peter Henry co-founded the business. In 2020 the two divorced.
Wegner left the non-profit (thus the business of Farm Table) and the Board of Directors, yet still owned the building that housed the Farm Table and until 2021 made monetary donations to the non-profit. Wegner charged the foundation $2,500 a month to rent the space.
The Farm Table continued to run with a Board of Directors, including Co-Founder and President Henry, an Executive Director, as well as their staff.
Wegner shared with the Amery Free Press that because of a desire to retire, she made it known in August 2022 she wanted to sell the building and would give first rights to the non-profit. She said it had been the plan for quite some time that the non-profit would eventually buy the space they had been renting from her. Wegner said it was the perfect opportunity for Farm Table to rally the community and possibly do a capital campaign.
Henry acknowledged the Board of Directors did learn about Wegner’s desires to sell in August. He said, “We were notified in August that Kari wanted to sell the building ‘as soon as possible’ when she sent a representative who serves on her Trust Committee, Walt Maurer, to our Board Meeting. It would be a big purchase for us, but Farm Table’s Board was very excited.”
Henry claims neither Wegner nor her organization Resilient Northern Habitats (RNH), mentioned a price or a timeline. “Even though we kept asking,” said Henry.
Online Polk County tax records show the Fair Market Value of 110 Keller Ave. to be $932,700. Fair Market Value of 114 Keller Ave. next door and also owned by RNH is listed as $141,300.
Henry said the Board assigned a committee to lead negotiations. “Myself and Sylvia Burgos Toftness. I consulted with Tom Hartmann about the Amery real estate market and Jason Whitley assisted in putting together our initial offer. Bremer Bank was on stand-by to help us assemble a mortgage,” he said.
Henry claims Farm Table put together an offer of $580,000 to Wegner in September. This was $500,000 for the real estate, $50,000 for the contents in the building and $30,000 for the half-acre in back.
Henry said, “The non-profit only has so much money; and in winter-time, with less traffic in this area, Farm Table does not break even pursuing its Mission. We try to raise monies in other ways, as all non-profits do, but we have had limited success. Our initial offer reflected this reality of being on a tight budget, buying a huge building — which is very expensive to operate and insure.”
Henry claims they increased their offer two more times. He said it was mid-December when a price of $925K was asked for by Wegner/RNH.
“The Farm Table Board met last week, looked at the price she asked us to pay, looked at our Reserves and how much money we earn/spend on the Mission every month and decided the only prudent thing to do is to shut down operations and attempt to move out,” said Henry.
He said their Executive Director, Lynn Blomstrand was tasked with telling staff and developing a plan to clean up and move out. “I believe we have around 15 employees, but if you consider the farmers we buy from, our partner organizations we work with, our customers that come here from points distant, this is affecting many, many people and we are devastated as is everyone associated with Farm Table.”
Devastation is one thing in which Wegner and Henry can agree.
“This is heartbreaking. I spent a lot of money, time and effort on this. Farm Table was given a huge opportunity that any other non-profit would have jumped on,” Wegner said. “In August they would be given an exclusive to buy the building. I wanted them to buy the building. It was their opportunity to go out to the public and say, ‘We have this great opportunity to buy our space. Let’s make this ours.’ Then they had five more months to do so. The first the public hears is the post on Facebook saying they were closing in three days.”
Wegner said her heart is breaking for the staff, the farmers and everyone who loved the place. She is saddened her original mission has come to this.
“I want to thank the community who supported these efforts with their attendance of the events, eating at the restaurant, buying food directly from the farmers, and donations of their time and efforts to the various organizations. I want to thank all the lovely staff (over all the years) of all these organizations for their hard work, efforts and belief in this mission. I want to thank all the trades for their building and maintaining of all the beautiful facilities. I want to thank all the farmers for their arduous work of regenerating soils, returning animals to the farms and producing amazing healthful food,” said Wegner.
She said there are some magical events and conversations that made the hard work, frustrations and expense worth the effort.
“From 2010 to 2020 my passion project and financial resources were focused on the Amery area. I do hope a bunch of seeds have been scattered through the efforts of Hungry Turtle Farm, Hungry Turtle Institute, Hungry Turtle Farmers Coop, Farm Table Foundation and Resilient Northern Habitats. And that the community is ready and inspired to create their own unique community-based food system,” Wegner said.
As for Henry, he said, “As of now, the Board is just wanting to see what happens. We want to buy this building; we want to stay in Amery. We love our location and so do our customers. We love Amery! And that’s where our farmers live with their families. The Board and myself personally, I will never give up on giving communities and individuals the choice to have high quality food, genuine, simple and local. It helps our health, our environment and our community economically. That’s what Farm Table started and now, having had a taste, I think that’s what people in this area and from far beyond believe in and support.”
He said he is spending his time trying to find people to help by them the building.
Henry said, “Local food will rise again, whether it is through Farm Table and its current location, or somewhere quite close by. We will be back. That’s my word to the public.”