Building a community fabric: Unionville couple launches Farmer & Co08/24/2021 04:07PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
It would be perfectly acceptable to proclaim that the seeds that began Farmer & Co in Unionville in July were first planted at a Philadelphia train station.
It was there that Unionville native Jessie Mooberry accidentally ran into her high school classmate and Bucks County-born and raised Soren Rubin again after a seven-year absence. Soon after, a romance began, and six months later, Rubin moved to San Francisco to be with Mooberry.
While the social, coffee-culture vibe of West Coast city life agreed with the young couple, the insular world of their respective corporate jobs became a continuous, soul-sapping commitment. Mooberry's position as the head of deployment at Airbus, that involved rolling out autonomous flying vehicles including air taxis and delivery drones – demanded frequent travel. For Rubin, his role in a start-up business in the healthcare industry was a seemingly endless stare into a computer screen.
“In the technology industries we were both involved in, there is very little person to person interaction and very little community,” Mooberry said. “Soren and I began to imagine doing something that would be both meaningful and community-driven.”
“In San Francisco, we were creating virtually, but we had a dream that would allow us to create something tangible – a physical manifestation of a community space,” Rubin said.
In 2020, directly in the face of a storm known as COVID-19, the couple moved back to Pennsylvania to pursue their imagination.
Originally, Mooberry and Rubin looked at developing an art and community space in Philadelphia, but the space became uninhabitable after a storm blew the building's roof off and led to severe water damage. They then turned to Unionville, where Jessie was born and raised, where generations of her family have lived since William Penn first settled here, and where her father Doug has owned and operated Kinloch Woodworking, Ltd. for nearly 40 years.
Right next door to her father's business stood the 1820 brick building that had been the former home of Foxy Loxy, the cozy coffee and nosh nook that had just closed after a six-year run. Before that, the two-story structure had been a market, a dry cleaning business, a boutique, a yarn shop and a gas station.
The history of the Unionville community was all contained in the building's walls. For Mooberry and Rubin – who were married last September – the old structure would become an incubator space where after a hearty few months of renovations, they could retro-fit their dreams.
They moved into the building on April 1, called it Farmer & Co, and began business in late July.
Advertised as an artisanal market, coffee bar and garden with a focus on local and sustainable organic provisions, Farmer & Co is the absolute antithesis of the big city life that Mooberry and Rubin left behind in San Francisco, and while they prepare for their café’s grand opening on Aug. 27, they have already stocked it with the essential ingredients that make up a community gathering space.
Its menu serves freshly-brewed coffee, baked goods and pastries and a rotating list of handmade ice cream that includes flavors like fresh ginger with candied lemon, garden basil with a raspberry swirl, and triple chocolate menace. Busy customers can pick up grab-and-go sandwiches and salads made from produce grown in the 14-raised bed “village garden” that stands directly behind the building.
When they were drafting plans for Farmer & Co, Mooberry and Rubin saw it as more than just a cool cafe but a local marketplace for area vendors. It's all there on the shelves for customers to purchase or in the menu items they prepare: beef from Green Valley Springs Farm in Unionville, pork products from Fox Penn Farms in Landenberg, chocolates from Eclat in West Chester, coffee beans from Elixr Coffee Roasters in Philadelphia, hot sauce from Turk's Head in Kennett Square, Swarmbustin' honey from a family apiary in West Grove, cheese and pastured eggs from Doe Run Farm in Unionville, vegan and gluten free goodies from Brugie’s, pastries from Oso Sweet in Chadds Ford, apothecary products from local herbalists and of course, organic produce grown on premise that ranges from sun gold cherry tomatoes to watermelon radishes to chioggia beets.
“There is an anonymity to most of what we eat and drink,” Rubin said. “Mostly it's just a package on a shelf at a grocery store, but in reality, it started somewhere in the hands of a farmer or a maker, and we wanted to highlight that.
“Jessie and I want to provide a venue for people who spend so much of their time growing and cultivating, to have a market for them to use to not only sell their products but to promote their name. Our hope is to continue to strengthen our relationships with the partners we are working with now, and ultimately, leverage that into making our products.”
Beneath the elm tree
Adjacent to Farmer & Co is a small patch of ground along Doe Run Road that is layered with wood chips and dotted with handmade picnic benches. The space has already become the cafe's unofficial “outdoor venue” for customers who wish to enjoy their coffee and goodies beneath a 160-year-old American elm tree, and it has already served as an impromptu performance spot for local musicians. On Saturday mornings, Rubin, a Kripalu Yoga teacher, conducts “Yoga Under the Elm,” classes that focus on the connection between breath and body, with attention to movement and postural alignment.
Mooberry said the area has unlimited potential.
“We have this fantastic coffee and kitchen aspect to Farmer & Co, and we feel that this space is tied into that sense of hospitality,” she said. “It's a place that can be used for birthday parties, live music events, bachelorette parties, meet-and-greets for our
partnering businesses, and fundraising events – all in a quiet setting.”
As they continue to develop ideas for the cafe and wait for additional equipment to arrive, however, Mooberry and Rubin said they are fully invested in a dream that for them has never wavered.
“Starting a brick-and-mortar in the hospitality industry is the single hardest thing we have ever done,” Mooberry said. “It is an incredible intersection of people and regulations and timeliness and staffing and equipment that we are still waiting to arrive, but our dream is to create this as a fabric of the community – to become a part of people's lives where they come to meet their friends and where they come to pick up products that are grown right around the corner.
“More and more, whether it has been influenced by politics or by a pandemic, we are finding ourselves living in a world of widening global desensitization, and to fix that is to do it on the local, grass roots level,” she added. “Through this period, we have also come to realize the importance of local relationships, and our view of what it means to be a good participatory citizen has changed during that time.
“Somewhere in that fabric, Soren and I are just trying to be great neighbors and a part of this community.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].