MIDDLETON - You need a fence post? Go see Charlie Brown. A chicken coop? Charlie’s your man. Advice? Ask Charlie.
His Family Feed Store on the outskirts of Middleton is one of those places you get to for some reason and you just feel like you’re part of the family.
Mark Goudge stopped in to Charlie’s just out of curiosity when he was in town. He’s the SaltWire Network photographer who travels the province looking for interesting subjects. He struck pay dirt at the feed store Jan. 4 just before a much-hyped storm was supposed to hit.
Snow was already falling as he pulled into the big dirt parking lot and he was wondering if he really had time to stop before he got caught in the storm. But when he met Charlie inside, he was drawn to the place. Charlie’s like that – laid back, likeable, knows a lot about a lot.
True, there’d been a rush on feed and other farm supplies the previous few days because of the big storm coming. The shelves were a bit depleted and Charlie wasn’t sure there was a lot to take pictures of.
Mark was undaunted because he can find a picture in just about anything. But it’s more about people than things anyway.
Shannon Hardwick works at the Family Feed Store too. He does a lot of lugging and lifting. Sort of like Charlie’s right-hand man. He’ll grab your bags of feed and toss them in the back of your truck. Or bales of shavings for bedding. You ordered some laying hens? Shannon will help you get them in your vehicle.
It seems there’s always customers at Charlie’s. Even as the storm started people were coming in.
In the good weather it can be hopping, especially with all the backyard farmers these days.
“A few years ago we stripped off the vinyl siding on the front of the building, added a porch and deck and clad it with board and batten,” Charlie said. “I think it looks more like a traditional feed store. In the summer we'll cook hot dogs or hamburgers for lunch. We try for once or so a week but sometimes it gets too busy and we just end up burning everything.”
Charlie and his wife Pam own the place and it’s been in the family since 1972. They sell feed, pet foods, and hardware like fencing, gates, chicken feeders, hay, straw, and shavings. You can buy your garden seeds there, seed potatoes, wood pellets, feeding bottles, buckets, and an assortment of other items too numerous to mention.
If Charlie doesn’t have it?
“We do some orders for people,” he said. “Feeds we don't normally stock, items that we don't sell a lot of, and don't stock.”
He caters to the ordinary folk who have a penchant for a few critters around the place, not the big spreads.
“Most of my customers are locals who have one or two animals,” he said. “Cows, horses, chickens, pigs -- that sort of thing. I have a few larger accounts -- farms and stables -- but most are backyard farmers.”
A lot of those customers are loyal, going back decades from when Charlie’s father-in-law ran the shop. They come in for supplies and hang around to shoot the breeze. Charlie’s an interesting guy and knows a lot about a lot.
“A certain portion of the customer base come to get feed and end up staying longer to talk about what's going on in their life,” Charlie said. “Some ask for advice on what to feed (their animals), some want to know the current selling price at the last stock auction, some of them just like to talk.”
The most popular items people are after will change with the time of year.
“Meat bird food from April to September, large animal foods from October to April -- animals brought in from pasture for the winter. The most consistent would be layer feed. It would surprise people how many produce their own eggs. Dog food sells well all year.”
Charlie supplies locals with broiler chicks several times a year, and he can get you laying hens,
“When a person wants a broiler they have to sign an agreement with the Chicken Producers of Nova Scotia,” Charlie said. “It allows a maximum of 200 birds per person/per address. They are also only for personal consumption as well I follow the same guidelines with the layers.”
There are a lot of backyard farmers in Annapolis County. Some want control over what they eat, some grew up on farms and love those hens just like pets, and some hope to save a few bucks on their food bills. Whatever the reason, Charlie’s the go-to guy. Just ask anybody, they’ll tell you.