By Linda Scherer
COKATO, MN - Dan and Becky Bravinder, owners of Dan & Becky’s Market, just one-half mile east of Cokato, are getting back to the basics in nutrition.
Their market, located on their family farm, offers healthy food choices, selling organic and natural foods, some of which are grown locally.
The market is open all-year around, Monday through Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“It is fun when people come here from a little bit farther out and they are not used to being on a farm,” Becky said. “The adults are just as excited to see the chickens as the kids.”
The couple enthusiastically share a wealth of knowledge with their customers about foods growing, eating, and cooking healthier.
“What I have learned over the years is, for good health, you need good food and that is the basics,” Becky said. “All this talk about health care systems is pointless if you are eating bad food.”
The Bravinders work long hours maintaining their market inventory, packaging product and labeling it, and during the warmer months, keeping up their own garden and raising butcher chickens.
“About 80 hours a week,” Dan said.
“It is like farming,” Becky said. “It never quits.”
They opened their market in November 2003, with common items they knew people would buy.
“I don’t know if we were so much into organic then, but we were starting,” Becky said. “It was more being able to buy products that we wanted in bulk.”
“We built the inventory on what people had requests for. That is how we got the inventory we have now,” Dan said. “Because of requests from different people in the area.”
Some of their natural and organic foods available at their market are raw unfiltered honey, golden flaxseed, handmade Belgian chocolates, cheese and ice cream, organic whole grains and flours, pastured pork products, bison, organic pork, grass fed organic beef, eggs, and produce.
Apples are a new addition to the market with 1,200 apple trees producing 10 varieties of apples, and they now have press apple cider.
“I think as far as the way we started the business, I really like what has happened because we started slow,” Dan said. “We didn’t go by any business model. I think we have a little better understanding of what is going on in the store and what people need and want,” Dan said.
“We have to know our customers,” Becky said.
Recently, Bravinders formed a partnership with a friend of theirs who wants to own a similar store in Montrose. To help his business get off to a good start, he will be using Dan & Becky’s Market as the name of his store.
“He will be running his own store and will be using his own capital to start it,” Dan said.
Dan and Becky’s support to start the store in Montrose is a little like the help they received in starting up their market.
“This store was really a thought of Dean and Lorna Mahlstedt of Cokato,” Dan said. “Before we got started in this, they wanted to do something like this. They were the ones with the original idea.”
Although Mahlstedts’ plans fell through, the Bravinders were able to purchase a lot of the grocery equipment they use today from them.
A sideline to their business is raising butcher chickens, all pre-sold. This year, the couple’s youngest son, Seth, raised 1,500 chickens on the Bravinders’ organic farm.
“Our pasture is fertilized by his chickens,” Dan said. “We have the chickens in movable pens. They get moved every day. The bottoms are all open on them so they can peck at the ground.
“You are putting about 300 pounds of nitrogen per acre on that pasture as you move these chickens over it, but it is not going to burn the soil like the commercial 300 pounds of nitrogen because it is an organic matter,” Dan said.
Their farm is organic, but it is not certified. They have not used any chemicals on their property for more than six or seven years, according to Dan.
“The thing about organic that people don’t understand is that it is all about the soil,” Becky said. “It is about putting compost and manure and making the soil healthier,” Becky said.
The Bravinder business is unique. “There are co-ops around, but there aren’t many of us around,” Becky said.
“We wanted a family business. I was probably moving in this direction for a long time,” Becky said.
Although Becky was planning for their business adventure for quite some time, Dan seems to be a little surprised at the outcome.
“If you had asked me 10 years ago, or told me I would be running my own grocery store, I would have said it will never happen,” Dan said.
The couple want to encourage other families to start their own business, and suggest people get to know their local farmers that sell anything from eggs to a side of beef.
“That is true community,” Becky said.
The Bravinders have four children:
• Derek is married to Tara and they live in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
• Alisha is married to Keno Walkes and they live in Dassel.
• Andrea is married to Nathan Wilson and they live in Columbia Heights.
• Seth is 17 and still lives at home.
They will have a total of seven grandchildren by the end of this month.