Market breathes new life into an old farm
When Ammie and Graham McGraw decided to move their family out of Des Moines, Iowa, they looked at a house owned by Graham’s parents, Verle and Roxanne. Known to the family as the West Place since it’s west of their home base of Pleasantville, Iowa, it had served as a home for their employees’ families and later as rental property.
The property included the stalls, sale barn, and office that was once part of the family hog business. Verle had a successful career raising and selling Hampshire and Yorkshire breeding stock, and was well known for quality genetics. Although he survived the farm crisis of the 1980s, he was forced out of business after pseudorabies problems in the swine industry.
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The old farmhouse needed a lot of work, but Ammie saw the possibilities immediately. Verle and Graham set to work updating the house for the young family, which includes children Harper, Hattie, and Cort, now 11, 9, and 7. “Graham always wanted to get back to the country,” Aimee says.
Looking out her new kitchen window, she wondered if the hog stalls and office that blocked her view of the countryside could be torn down. “Verle is the most easy-going guy there is, but that was a no,” she says. “I thought, ‘If they’re going to stay, then they’re going to serve a purpose.’”
Developing a dream
While Ammie and Graham had no plans to be farmers, they knew their property had a lot of potential. Ammie came up with the idea of turning it into a market. Graham replaced the roof on the old farm office and updated the inside, but they chose to leave the weathered sign painted on the front that reads, “McGraw Farms, Hampshires - Yorkshires.”
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Ammie, who works full-time as a web designer in for a farm and crop insurance company, turned the farm office into a cozy retail store, The West Place, selling farm-themed home decor, jewelry, and artisan crafts in person and online at westplacefarmhousemarket.com.
“I can’t get back into the hog business now. I don’t have an office,” Verle jokes.
Ammie had other plans like wreath-making classes, but they had to be put on hold thanks to Covid-19. She turned her attention to planning an on-farm market event.
The inaugural Farm Market at The West Place was held June 12 and 13, 2021. Tickets were sold to attendees online in advance and at the gate. Shoppers came from miles around, many making the 45-minute drive from Des Moines.
It was a beautiful, sunny weekend, and visitors were greeted with a coffee truck at the entrance. Food trucks sold mini donuts, charcuterie cups, pizza, ice cream, and other snacks. Another truck offered custom-made flower arrangements.
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Once visitors stepped through the octagon gate, it was clear this was unlike most other farmers’ markets or craft fairs. The long row of pens that had once housed the famous McGraw Yorkshires and Hampshires was now filled with vendors, including painters, woodworkers, sign makers, basket weavers, macrame artists, rug weavers, jewelry designers, bakers, and goat farmers offering soaps and lotions. Many vendors were local, but others came from out of state. One pen held a friendly goat, which got a lot of attention from kids and adults alike.
Verle says he never would’ve imagined his hog pens being used like this, but he believed in Ammie’s vision. “I like to be optimistic,” he says. “Why be any other way? To be a farmer, you have to be optimistic.”
Ammie’s goal was to have a couple hundred people per day come through the gate, and attendance exceeded that goal both days. Many vendors quickly reserved their spot for the fall market. “We wanted to bring the cool, hip, trendy things to the farm, but the city people loved coming to the farm and hanging out here for the day,” she says. Locals enjoyed being able to get an iced latte and do some shopping without driving to town.
With two years and four market weekends now under her belt, the event is going strong and growing each time.
Just getting started
While Ammie is keeping busy running the shop and planning the fall market in addition to her family and full-time job, she’s not stopping there. “This is just the beginning,” she says.
The old sale barn is on her radar for many future projects. Ammie says she fell in love with this building immediately. “It’s like taking a step back in time,” she says. “I want to figure out how to use it without losing that charm.”
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Verle agrees the large building could be put to good use. “It was built for sales,” he says. “I sold out of it every day.”
Future events at The West Place may include additional market events throughout the year, a roadside food and flower stand, and classes. The goal is for the business to eventually support Ammie and Graham’s family.
Through hard work and creative thinking, Ammie has seen her vision come to life. “I feel like this place was sitting here just waiting for us to come along and do something with it,” she says.
Whatever happens in the future, Verle is pleased with the way his daughter-in-law and son have transformed the West Place. He says, “They’ve breathed new life into this old farm.”