New Market’s Jon Henry General Store Curates Virginia Produce and Merchandise | Winchester star

NEW MARKET — Not all artists paint.

Jon Henry, a social practice artist, said he once made art selling chicken eggs.

Before earning a master’s degree in art from New York University and James Madison University, Henry was a self-proclaimed “huckster.” To pay for expensive art manuals, Henry took produce from his family’s farm to sell closer to big cities like Washington, DC.

Henry worked to get the best price for each product and to find the price “sweet spot” to sell: what customers would pay for a given product that would bring Henry the most money.

In 2019 Henry, who grew up in a farming family in Rappahannock County, said he wanted to explore labels such as “Pasture Raised”, “Predator Friendly” and “Carbon Neutral”.

He set out to stock up on chicken eggs with all possible labels. He eventually found eggs that were certified as “locally-grazed, organic, soy-free, non-GMO, predator-friendly, cruelty-free and carbon-neutral,” and they were sold in compostable, recycled cartons.

He knew how many eggs usually sold and he knew which labels were the most desirable, but wanted to explore what it would be like to take the labels to extremes.

The resulting eggs featured Henry’s signature atop each and were included in an installation for the Valley Arts Council in Harrisonburg. The resulting price, for work done in all certifications, was approximately $13 per dozen eggs.

“Even my roadside stand in suburban DC couldn’t handle egg prices over $3,” Henry wrote in an article that detailed the project.

In the 2021 book, “The New Farmer’s Almanac, Volume V: Grand Land Plan,” published by grassroots modern farming group Greenhorns, Henry wrote about the intersection of being an artist and his latest attempt at open a grocery store and gift shop in the new downtown market.

The Jon Henry General Store opened in 2018 in the historic Abbie Henkel House on North Congress Street, across from the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation building, which also houses the New Market Area Chamber of Commerce.

The store, which emphasizes local and fair trade products, occupies the entire ground floor of the historic building.

Narrow, red double doors open into the wallpaper-covered main hall, which connects to the left and right rooms. Built like a typical home, the space was once used as a dry goods store in its history, according to the Jon Henry General Store website.

A passageway lit by wall sconces leads straight to the store’s cooler space, which features Virginia meat, dairy, eggs, seafood, and fresh and frozen produce. Much of the store’s meat, fresh produce and other products come from Jumpin Run Farm in Mount Jackson. Jumpin Run is Henry’s family farm.

To the left of the main lobby is a grocery space, with Heritage Virginia Mills stone-ground cereals, baked goods, fresh produce, and vegan dairy alternatives.

To the right of the carved wooden banister, past the green-carpeted staircase, is a section that offers freebies, vegan snacks, beverages, and other Virginia-made sauces, honey, and preserves.

Some of the brands it offers are Virginia Chutney Co., part of Rappahannock County-based Turner Foods, and products bearing the Virginia’s Finest check mark. It also offers Copernicus Toys and Gifts, a STEM toy wholesale business in Charlottesville.

Henry, 32, wears glasses, a blue Carhartt zip-up jacket with the Jon Henry General Store logo and hiking boots. A towering figure in a low voice, Henry fills the main aisle of the store.

In a garishly carpeted storage area in the building next door, which was recently purchased by Henry and his family, he sits down to talk.

The long rectangular room is mostly empty and shrouded in darkness by thick red curtains covering a semicircle of windows. These were left over from the space’s previous use as a place for funeral services.

In a woven chair in front of the windows, Henry described how he struggled to marry as an artist and as a shop owner before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.

When he started in 2018, Henry had a lot to learn about running a full-time business, he said.

“When we opened, it seemed cool to have an old-fashioned cash register,” Henry said. “And then it’s like, ‘Oh wait, we’re running a business.’ I need a [point-of-sale system] where I can find out what’s going on and create reports. »

As the pandemic took hold, Henry said his shop allowed him to stay engaged on social issues such as poverty and access to food, and to maintain the critical, conservative eye of an artist.

“They say the first five years of owning a business are the hardest,” Henry said. “Your first five years, part of which is two years of the pandemic, are very stressful.”

For Henry, the start of the pandemic coincided with opportunities to start accepting SNAP and EBT cards.

“Coincidentally, going into the pandemic, it was a pretty good business decision, but also a good community decision,” Henry said. “Where everyone’s life was turned upside down.”

Henry, who is passionate about more equitable access to nutritious food, said having a SNAP program has increased demand for his store, which has grown from primarily a gift shop to primarily a grocery store with a large gift offer.

Jon Henry General Store is one of the few Commonwealth grocery stores to be part of the Virginia Fresh Match program, which evolved from the SNAP offering.

A federally funded program, the Virginia Fresh Match program doubles the value of SNAP benefits when used to purchase fresh Virginia fruits and vegetables, seeds and food-growing plants.

“You’ll never find us at a Kroger,” said Elizabeth Borst, co-head of Virginia Fresh Match.

The program started with farmers’ markets and expanded to a few grocery stores, including the Friendly City Food Co-op in Harrisonburg.

Henry said offering Virginia Fresh Match has allowed him to tie his business to social good because he can offer people with limited resources a more nutritious “hit” for every dollar of SNAP benefits.

“It’s a win-win situation where the farmers get more money for their produce and the consumer gets healthier food,” Henry said. “It’s an incentive to stop people from just buying candy, soda and chips, [which are usually cheaper].”

Henry’s business has contact with many local farmers, including Matthew Knicely from outside Harrisonburg, who supplies wholesale honey. Henry created the marketing of honey and sells it.

“I wrap it up and [Henry] markets it,” Knicely said. “It created a new source of income, but [the honey] is a very small company right now.

Henry also has a community supported agriculture program, which he calls a “food box program.” The program allows community members to purchase fresh bounties from local farms, receiving boxes of whatever grows in season.

“It solves a lot of problems for a lot of different people,” Henry said. “It supports small businesses and keeps local money.”

It’s called the food box program instead of a CSA because Henry said the acronym would be confusing in New Market, which has strong ties to the Civil War and where the CSA might be assumed. refer to the Confederate States of America.

“Everyone was confused because they thought it was something to do with the battlefield,” Henry said. “People thought we were selling like Civil War-themed food. The civil war is much more talked about [here].”

Henry said the historical information inspired him to dig deeper into the history of the region and how it affects people with different identities in his works.

“As an artist, I say to myself, wait, let’s pull this string a little more. What does it mean that the first Jewish person died in the Civil War [in New Market] and what side were they fighting on, and how does that complicate matters? said Henry.

Curating different brands in his store is another way Henry says his artistic side is emerging in the store. When a product isn’t chosen because it’s from Virginia, it’s because it’s related to another Henry cause, like fair trade or waste reduction. Some products, like the store’s huge selection of crazy socks, are just for fun.

The store, which is approaching its fourth anniversary, hasn’t quite reached the end of the dreaded first five years mentioned by Henry. Even with two of the first four years into the pandemic, Henry said the crisis helped him decide what the business would stand for.

Inventory, meanwhile, more than doubled, and Henry said he was developing business acumen to match his artistic abilities.

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