TOWNSEND — The days of bulk coal delivered by train to the feed store are long gone.
Farmers Exchange still sells coal by the bag and pellets, too. Workers still haul huge bags of feed and livestock owners still pick them up, loading the beds of pickups trucks until the shocks compress.
Things are changing at the store, though. It serves not only the commercial farmer, but the backyard farmer, too. Valerie Sears, manager of the family business, wants to be sure that pet owners and gardeners are welcome as well.
The farm animals living at the store give people a chance to interact with less traditional pets. If you watch people going in and out of the store, you might notice quite a few of them heading over to the pens once they spot the livestock.
One of the selectmen makes a special trip to the store as often as possible to visit Maybelle, the baby cow.
Owning a dog or cat is common, but sometimes new families come into the store. Not only are they new to puppies, they are new to chickens and goats too, Sears said.
If people know how easy it is to house these animals, they will likely own them, she said. The store sells both chicks and bunnies.
“Here’s how you do it,” she tells folks, and leads them to the pens in the side yard. There is the baby cow, born in March, two pigs and a flock of laying chickens.
Sears knows just how to get the animals to interact with her customers. The sleepy pigs were lured out of the structure for a good itching with a scrub brush. That mud must get itchy.
Koko the goat entices customers into the joys of goat ownership. The friendly fellow, also born in March like his friend the cow, follows customers around as they make their selections.
One sunny day, he stretched out under a picnic table while the grown-ups talked. The new manager’s plan is working. A woman came over to meet Koko and decided that two goats would be just the thing for her family.
Farmers Exchange does not sell goats, but Sears offered to put the woman in touch with a place that does.
Pet owners are an important part of the business. The store sells food and accessories like coats and bedding. It also has vetting products like wormers, antibiotics and heartworm pills.
Before coming to work at the store her father opened 31 years ago, Sears worked in the event planning industry. She plans to use that knowledge to connect more people with local farms.
A farmers market is in the works, beginning sometime in June. Regional producers of produce and meat will be able to bring their food to local customers.
Many of the vendors are already customers at Farmers Exchange, Sears said, and they have a strong following.
She also plans to paint the building barnyard red so that it stands out. It is set back from Elm Street and can be hard to see from the road because the current blue fades into the gray of the driveway, she said.
The Farmers Exchange is located at 15 Elm St., behind the fire station. Koko and the other animals are ready to greet their admiring throngs.
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