Store meets needs of farmers, real and wannabe

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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In 1950, a group of farmers and ranchers pooled resources to establish Placer County Farm Supply. The business took root and, 60 years later, is still flourishing. Today, the store shares space with the Placer County Farm Bureau at a site on Ophir Road, just outside Auburn. “Everything a rancher or farmer wants, we’ve got it — we’ve got everything for farmers and ranchers and wannabe farmers and ranchers,” said Ron Berg, former store manager. There are all the things you’d expect to find at a farm supply — fertilizers, chemicals, feed and seeds, as well as fencing, gates and livestock shelters. And then there’s a lot more. Store manager Pam Fanini, who has been with the store 21 years and took over the reins three years ago, is always on the lookout for interesting items to put on the shelves. Lee and Wrangler jeans — staples for farmers and ranchers — have been part of the inventory for a long time. But there are also racks filled with other Western wear — shirts, blouses, belts and jackets. One corner is devoted to cowboy and work boots. There are candles and jewelry, and many gift selections. A refrigerator near the back is stocked with animal vaccines and medicines. One of the reasons the Newcastle store has stayed in business, while many of the other farm suppliers attached to farm bureaus have folded, is because it has expanded to remain competitive, said Farm Bureau Executive Director Sandy Schwartzler. “Pam brought in things people wanted with the changing of the times,” Schwartzler said. “If the men were here buying fertilizers and supplies, she brought in stuff for women. She also added the tack and gift items.” The tack area has special meaning for Fanini and Schwartzler, who raise horses. Grass Valley resident Ann Rubenstein and a friend, Beverly Jensen of Newcastle, visit the store frequently to browse. “It’s more fun than going to Nordstrom’s,” Rubenstein said with a laugh as she looked at gardening gloves. “It’s a fun place to stop. I like the people who work here. They’re really nice.” At a time when there’s stiff competition from national store chains, Fanini takes pride that all the employees are educated on all the store’s products. Recently, a customer came in to replace a solar-power unit that controls her electric fence because it didn’t seem to be creating enough energy. That is, until Berg explained to her that because the region had seen so few sunny days during the period, the units weren’t producing enough power. He advised her to simply switch out the battery instead. “We’re here to sell things but we’re also here to make sure our customers have the information they need, too,” he said. For many years the store operated on a membership-only dividend program. But as original members retired or passed away, the business model evolved. Rather than dividends, farm bureau members now get an across-the-board 5 percent discount on merchandise. A major change happened in 1982, when the store opened its doors to the public. Then in 1999, the farm supply added another room to hold garden and pet supplies. The membership, which numbers about 3,000, meets annually for a dinner and meeting. This year, a 60th anniversary celebration was part of the proceedings at the January event. “All of the older farmers and ranchers were there who have supported the store all these years,” Berg said. “We asked who started shopping here in 1950 and about six people stood up.” For Fanini, her favorite part of the job is fielding the questions that come in daily. “There’s always a new question,” she said. “It’s always a different question because we have so many things.” The store is hosting a 60-year celebration featuring a customer appreciation day on March 20. Gloria Young can be reached at ------------------ Placer County Farm Supply Where: 10120 Ophir Road, Newcastle Phone: (916) 663-3741 Web site: ------------------- Placer County Farm Bureau Sandy Schwartzler, executive director of the Placer County Farm Bureau, said her job mirrors that of the other farm bureaus in every state in the nation — helping to protect agriculture. The bureaus offer a variety of support services to local agriculture. There’s also a strong emphasis on championing farm interests at the state and national level, often through lobbying in Sacramento and Washington. The farm bureau is a non-governmental, non-profit, voluntary organization. Membership, which is open to anyone with an interest in agriculture, offers discounts at various area merchants as well as on insurance through Allied/Nationwide. Annual membership fee is $80 for a producer and $72 for a non-producer.