BANGOR, Pa. — Aline Haddad and Jess Poliskiewicz grew up on the same road in Bangor.
Poliskiewicz, whose family has farmed since the 1800s, leases 1,500 acres for feed grains. His family raises Berkshire hogs and Simmental beef cattle, which they show annually at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.
Haddad’s parents were school teachers, and her father raised turkeys and hogs. She has been immersed in food production her whole life. After college, she traveled to Vermont to work on a farm. Then she returned to Bangor to raise organic vegetables and meat that she sold at markets.
Poliskiewicz’s family farmed the Haddads’ land, but the two didn’t know each other until Haddad moved back into the Bangor area. In the five years they’ve been together, they’ve joined forces agriculturally and reinvigorated the area by opening Johnsonville Farm & Garden Inc. The business is a feed mill and general store that runs the spectrum on home, garden and farm supplies, locally sourced groceries and both conventional and GMO-free feed.
The site of Johnsonville Farm & Garden is no stranger to agriculture. The space was built in 1938 and served as the local Grange as well as an Agway and a mill until it went defunct in the 1980s. Through the following decades it stood vacant and in increasing disrepair. The couple, sparked with the idea of opening a storefront for their goods, tracked down the out-of-state landlord and made him an offer on the property.
It took them eight months to get the space open for business, all the while continuing with their own farms.
“We gave it a facelift,” Haddad said.
The store has been open for a year and a half now, and its thriving business has offered services and goods to everyone from the day-to-day gardener or hesitant homesteader to the several-generation dairy or crop farmer.
Haddad had been participating in the Easton Farmers Market prior to the store’s opening. She decreased her farm production from 10 acres to four to balance her time spent managing the store. Poliskiewicz has been steadily transitioning about half his crops to non-GMO crops, which has offered him a higher price point for his product as well as an increase and variety in the store’s customer base. Before the Bangor store opened, some area residents had been carpooling as far as Oley to purchase organic animal feed.
The store uses two separate trucks, two separate sets of bins and two mixers for their different types of feeds. They can’t become certified organic because the grain operations would need to be in two separate buildings as well. They move 60-75 tons of grain through the mill a month.
But Haddad said there is no conventional versus organic friction in the store. They carry something for everyone.
“It’s an exciting new future for both of us,” Poliskiewicz said.
They’ve created a space that is helpful for the whole community, particularly for farmers, but not in any way exclusive to others.
The couple raises their own eggs and meat for sale in the store. They also carry Pennsylvania flour as well as raw milk sourced from Klein Farms Dairy & Creamery in Easton. In the summer, they bring in an extra fridge for Haddad’s produce. Wares from a local baker, coffee roaster and smoker line the tables. A number of local crafters, including Haddad, who does some sewing, sell their items in a home goods section. From rennet to animal traps, from local honey to animal medicine and bird seed, the store’s offerings are immense and varied.
In the spring the store carries chicks, feeder hogs and other animals.
Haddad has encountered a lot of excitement about the space as well as curiosity. Residents come in asking questions about raising a few backyard chickens or a couple of goats, and she can offer them guidance in that direction. Seasoned farmers come in for cover crops, and other customers return to buy from the wide meat selection.
While Haddad said part of the challenge of the store was determining its inventory, she also said that area customers would come in with requests and would gratefully wait while items were ordered.
She’s had the exciting and unique experience of watching her region take strides back toward its agrarian roots.
“People are starting to realize they need to take back their farms,” she said, referring to the store’s wide array of farm products that were raised and prepared from start to finish at their respective farms.
Linda Ackerman, of Hillside Smokehouse, another producer spotlighted at the store, expressed appreciation for the reopening of the space.
“I’m really happy for them,” she said. Ackerman remembers the store as an Agway business. She recalls being at the building regularly with her father and grandfather as a young girl.
“This was like coming back home for me,” she said.
The young couple’s commitment toward touting local agriculture doesn’t stop with the store. Johnsonville Farm & Garden Inc. holds festivals throughout the year for the community, and the two owners hold positions on the board of the Bangor Farmers Market, which debuted in town this season.
Haddad and Poliskiewicz hope these combined efforts work to fill the generational gap of farmers in the area.
“The more farmers, the better,” Haddad said. “More people should be farming.”
Poliskiewicz’s sister works at the store, and several high school students spend the second half of their school day there as part of their work co-ops.
Johnsonville Farm & Garden, Inc. is located at 154 Johnsonville Road, Bangor, Pennsylvania, 18013, and its hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The store is hosting a Harvest Festival on Saturday, Oct. 22, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The events will include a community pig roast, a blacksmith demonstration, and a number of vendors and exhibits. For more information, visit the store’s Facebook page or call 610-599-0683.
Liz Wagner is a freelance writer in eastern Pennsylvania.