There's more to life than the cheapest price
The farmers, all five of them, are wearing bib overalls. Standing in line evenly spaced at Klema's feed store, they look like a paper chain or a garland for a country Christmas tree.
"Kristen always remembers what my horses eat," Charlie says from the back of the line. He is cradling a white mesh bag of seed corn as though it were a newborn baby and explaining to me why he still shops at Klema's when the more modern feed and garden center is cheaper.
"Plus they still grind grain here," he says with satisfaction. The 70-year-old grinding equipment shimmies vibrations across the lot from the warehouse to the store. The grinder sounds so much like King Kong, grunting and roaring in the old movie, that I glance nervously over at the loading dock expecting to see a gorilla in blue overalls.
Klema's could use a coat of paint. It could have used a coat of paint at any time in the past 15 years. The aisles are so narrow that customers continually bob up and down, picking up bottles of horse shampoo, plastic bags of chick starter, or tubes of worming medication that they accidentally have knocked off the shelves.
Because of occasional unscheduled visits from the warehouse cat, the staff is keeping a close eye on the baby chicks in the horse trough - straight run (males and females), 75 cents each, Rhode Island Reds and Leghorns, plus one loudmouthed, newly hatched mallard duckling for $2. A small piece of eggshell still sticks to his head. The cracked blackboard behind him announces, in sloping handwriting. that the store is out of duck grower and short of duck starter.
The duckling seems to stare at the message disapprovingly.
There aren't many old-fashioned feed stores like Klema's in Wisconsin anymore. They are being replaced by feed and garden centers that sell more pet food than pig chow and more garden hoses than winter wheat.
Charlie finally makes it up to the counter and orders 100 pounds of calf formula from the warehouse.
"That calf formula is 8 cents cheaper per pound over at the feed and garden center," I remind him in a whisper so as not to offend Kristen. "You'd save eight bucks."
Turning around in the small space, he knocks a can of bag balm and a couple of pieces of cobcorn onto the floor. I realize as he picks them up that perhaps the five men in overalls would feel out of place in the more modern feed store, which is frequented by suburbanites buying Miracle-Gro. Apparently Klema's is more than a feed store; it's an overalls support group.
"I'm used to Klema's, don't you know," says Charlie simply, offering me a piece of black licorice before he leaves. "And besides, Kristen, she always remembers what my horses eat."