One family history has it that Koepsel’s Farm Market was born in a wheelbarrow in the 1940s on the front lawn of what was then the family farm located across Highway 57 from the present market. Emma Koepsel (Grandma Great) sold her extra garden produce, and her son Eldred sold his prize-winning gladiolas.
Another version of the story credits Emma Koepsel’s 12-year-old granddaughter Sally with founding the market in 1958, in a small tool shed that was converted to a roadside stand and moved across the road to the location of the current market. Among other produce, she sold cut gladiolas from five gallon steel Pleck ice cream buckets. At that time, Pleck Ice Cream of Sturgeon Bay was a well-known distributor in Door County.
In the early ‘60s the business outgrew the stand, and the Koepsel’s Farm Market we know today was launched. The tool-shed, roadside stand went into yet another reincarnation as a playhouse for the Koepsel children, and now it sits near the parking lot as a historic reminder.
One of the little girls who played house there, Karrie Koepsel Oram, is the present owner of the business along with her husband Kevin Oram. Her grandparents, Emma and August Koepsel, shared the family home with their son and his wife, Eldred and Mildred Koepsel, and their five children. August Koepsel owned an insurance agency. Emma and her daughter-in-law Mildred developed a number of the recipes that are still used in food preparation in the store.
Karrie Oram’s daughters, Karina and Kami, work in the store as the fourth generation, and her great-nephew, 15-year-old Aaron Zak is the fifth generation of the family to be involved in the business.
Working in Koepsel’s Farm Market has been a family tradition, as at some time virtually every member of the family has been involved with the market, in addition to being involved in the Door County community. Sally is married to Willard Zak, the Baileys Harbor Barber. Her sister Suzanne and husband Jerry Daubner own Nan and Jerry’s Bait Shop in Fish Creek. Her brother Don with his wife Donna have continued August Koespel’s insurance agency. And her brother Dennis, along with wife Melissa and daughter Bailey, operate the antique shop housed in the complex, a business begun by his parents.
“The family has stayed within a 10-mile radius,” Sally Koepsel Zak observed, “all contributing to the economy of Door County.”
A visit to the store offers a visual history of the business. On the walls are enlarged, framed photos providing a chronological picture story of the development and growth of the market. Other frames are collages of family members – one of Eldred Koepsel’s family, a second of Mildred Koepsel’s family (she is descended from Increase Claflin, the first white settler in Door County making Karrie his great, great, great granddaughter), a third of the five Koepsel children, and the last of their past farm animals.
The store fixtures in the market also provide a look at the past. Antique nail and seed counters with glass front drawers, some with vintage labels, and one with framed printed cloth seed bags (in the past farm women made dish towels from bags of this sort) serve as sales and display counters in the store. Some of the fixtures were salvaged from Door County stores while other antique pieces add to the old-time ambience.
At one time the Koepsels raised mink on their farm, and the farm market sold hats, stoles, and jackets made from their operation. A few of the garments remain in storage at the market.
The market is unique because of the number of items sold in the store that the family grows and processes. The on-site bakery produces pies, donuts, scones, turnovers, and breads, along with fudge, peanut butter, and peanut brittle. The market’s certified kitchen cans jams, jellies, and fruit butters; applesauces; cherry salsa; and a cherry BBQ sauce.
“We made the original chopped cherry jam,” Karrie Oram said. “It’s the first thing we made, and we still do – a number one best seller.”
Many of the fruits and vegetables sold and used in the market’s food processing operations are raised in their own organic (but not certified) gardens supervised by Kevin Oram. While some of the canning and preserving is done when fruits and vegetables are in season, other produce is frozen for processing during the winter months.
“I have 200 rhubarb plants,” Karrie Oram said. “I harvest it when it’s ready and freeze it without sugar to use later.” The market also has strawberry and raspberry beds, and they pick wild thimbleberries for their jam. Thimbleberries grow in only five counties in the United States, she said.
“We all work together taking care of the gardens,” she said, speaking of the magnitude of the project, “so it works okay.”
They maintain only a few sweet cherries and apple trees, but they purchase cherries and apples from other local growers. The exception to their use of local produce is the Michigan blueberries that they purchase.
Like most farm markets, Koepsel’s sells some items they have not produced, including cheeses and sausages, Door County wines, and 47 Wisconsin micro-brewery beers. They also sell “whole muscle beef jerky” that Kevin Oram makes.
Even though the season comes to an end, the work for the Koepsel Market continues.
“We cut our Christmas trees and then set them up for sale the Monday before Thanksgiving,” Karrie Oram said. “And then we start canning the Monday after Thanksgiving. We do five, ten-to-twelve-hour days each week. Last year we finished canning the first week in May.”
While the store closes in the autumn, on-line sales are available year round with five-day-a-week UPS pick up.
“I’ve been doing this for 42 years,” Karrie said. “I’ve been working here since I was eight. And they will probably carry me out of here!
“You put your heart and soul into what you do, and you do the best you can,” she continued. “We love the people we meet here, people who have been coming for years and years.”
Koepsel’s Farm Market is located at 9669 Highway 57. For more information call 920.854.2433. Take a virtual tour of Koepsel’s Farm Market or shop online at http://www.koepsels.com.