BY SUSAN WENZEL
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Sept. 23, 2013
The 3 Sisters country market is the quintessential merger of past and present. One can find good old-fashioned grocery staples (meat, cheese and eggs), as well as more contemporary tastes (orange cardamom ice cream and lavender salt) inside a newly renovated firehouse built more than a half-century ago – at the corner of State Route 20 and Holbrook Road.
In the days before the inception of Wal-Mart and Costco, the corner store was the place to go – to shop for groceries, cash in glass bottles to buy an ice cream or a handful of penny candy, bump into a friend and catch up on the neighborhood news or just sit a spell. Quaint little mom and pop shops, filled primarily with local foods and merchandise, built the foundation of modern American business; however, through the years, countless numbers of these independently owned establishments suffered under the domineering presence of super stores and the tempting “bargain basement” prices and “one stop shopping” conveniences they offer.
The Muzzall family, known throughout the region for the succulent pork and premium grass-fed beef they raise on their 600-acre central Oak Harbor farm, grew tired of watching friends and neighbors struggle under the oppressive weight of big business and decided enough was enough. The desire to champion small scale food producers, particularly those within the agricultural community, was larger than any farmer’s market tent could contain, so Ron and Shelly, along with daughters Jennifer, Jessica and Roshel, hatched a plan to open a permanent marketplace to showcase not only their own eggs, hot dogs, sausage and steaks, but also other Whidbey-made products.
“After the farmer’s markets closed in the fall, our customers were still in search of local food, so we started looking for a place to have a year-round market to fill the needs of our customers and to support local business and farmers. In the process, we hoped create a community center as well,” said Shelly Muzzall, farm and market co-owner and mom to those three sisters.
“The San de Fuca fire station hadn’t been used for years, and when it was put up for sale, we knew we had found the right place.”
Five months have passed since the 3 Sisters Market first opened its doors, and the community response has been greater than even Jessica Muzzall, store manager and middle sister, dreamed possible.
“People stop in here all day long,” Jessica Muzzall said.
“We sell out of most products almost as fast as we get them in,” she added. “I post listings on Facebook when we receive fresh shipments of things like Screaming Banshee breads, Whidbey Pies, Bell’s Farm berries and Willowood Farm vegetables. And like that…they’re gone!”
Jessica also extends some extra customer service, which is another benefit to shopping at a small, community-oriented store.
“I constantly get calls asking if we have eggs or other items, and I offer to hold things for a couple hours. Oh, and if people want to call ahead, I can usually do special orders too,” she said.
An eclectic collection of wicker baskets sits just inside the front door ready for patrons to fill with a selection of foods and sundries too numerous to list here; however, a few notable favorites include: Island Trollers wild caught Albacore, Hunter’s Moon Blueberry Farm honey and sauces, The Fay Farm natural body care items, Ebey’s Prairie Grain Company barley and kamut, Rosehip Farm and Garden produce, Jenny Bean coffee and Primal Island grain-free foods.
“We have so many different food and gift items for sale, people think they can buy those baskets too, but they are for shopping not for purchase,” Jessica Muzzall said, laughing. Assembling and shipping gift baskets is a service she is considering for the future, she added.
With all of the current choices and the regular addition of new products, a grocery cart might be more appropriate, this reporter quipped.
“Yes, we do offer a lot, and I’m always open to suggestions for other vendors or artists to carry here because there is plenty of room to add more,” she said.
Someday soon, the Muzzalls hope to expand their stock to include other frequently requested products, such as locally produced seafood from island favorites Seabolt’s Smokehouse and Penn Cove Shellfish.
“We listen to what people want and then look for a source with a current business license and a good reputation for making a quality product,” Jessica added.
As evidence to this, one of the most highly sought after grocery items – milk – is now available at the store on a regular basis. Shoppers have the choice of low-temperature pasteurized, non-homogenized milk from Twinbrook Creamery in Lynden or raw milk from Jackie’s Jersey Milk in Bellingham.
After stopping in and stocking up on some the best of what this corner store has to offer – perhaps a Whidbey Island Ice Cream bar from the freezer by the door (or a three pack to share) – visitors can grab a seat at the picnic table overlooking the picturesque waters of Penn Cove…and sit a spell.
Connect with 3 Sisters Family Farms & Market on Facebook or call (360) 678-5445 for information about new items, daily specials, and more. Stop by the store from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, to purchase items from these fine Whidbey Life Magazine Members: Greenman’s Guild, Mukilteo Coffee Roasters, Lavender Wind Farms and Willowood Farms.
Susan Wenzel, food writer, believes in the power of locally produced food to fortify the health and wellbeing of both the individual and the community as a whole.
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