A new market in Milford hopes to help the community harness the nutritional power of locally grown produce and regionally made products.
The Farmacy Market at 28 South Walnut St., near My Sister’s Fault Bakery, hosted invited friends and family Wednesday and will formally open Saturday for Small Business Saturday.
It has its roots in a scary episode of the lives of co-owners Chantel and Patrick Helmick.
He is a Milford native, and the couple had returned to his Southern Delaware town from Brevard College, where they met while both were on sports scholarships, to work on their masters at Wilmington College.
Around the time of their second wedding anniversary, Chantel was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, perilously close to stage 3. It’s a cancer of the lymphatic system, a key part of the immune system.
Chantel underwent chemotherapy every two weeks for seven months to fight it.
Doctors didn’t want to give her radiation because of the location of the tumors and because of how it would affect her chances of having children.
She was 25 and the couple wanted a family. At their age, though, they didn’t have the $20,000 they would need to harvest and freeze her eggs.
A stunned Patrick felt hopeless and wondered what he could do to support Chantel and improve her experience and maybe her outcome.
He threw himself into gardening.
“I can’t make chemotherapy drugs, but what I can do is produce the most nutritionally dense food possible and that’s what I did,” he said. “I started a backyard garden so she was getting the best nutrition possible as she fought cancer, and she defeated it.”
After she was declared cancer-free, he continued gardening, expanding the space devoted to it.
“By 2019, I was growing so much produce and I was giving it away to families and friends that people were saying to me, please stop giving me free produce,” he said with a laugh. “Like I was walking around trying to find a cracked window to sneak a zucchini through. It was coming out of my ears.”
The Farmacy genesis
In 2020 the couple launched Helmick’s Homestead and began selling their produce at the Milford, Dover and other farmers markets.
Through that, they met a lot of area growers and makers offering quality products, and the Helmicks began to entertain the idea of a more permanent place.
Along the way, they became parents. Their daughter, River, is 4 and their son, Noah, is 2, and Chantel is expecting a third child.
Along the way, they had become friends with Sherry and Bryan Shupe, who own Fur Baby Pet Resort, a business Sherry was starting when she and Bryan met. He also is Milford’s member of the Delaware House of Representatives and CEO of Delaware LIVE.
As is the case in so many small towns, Patrick’s family had known Bryan’s family. They all have young children and the Helmicks and the Shupes saw each other a lot at the farmers market and around town.
They began to realize they shared the same concerns about local produce, sustainability and limiting chemicals and pesticides in food. That turned into a business plan for The Farmacy Market, Chantell said.
“Food is medicine,” she said. “That’s where the name Farmacy came from. You go to the pharmacy to get medicine. Now you can go to The Farmacy and get medicine that is food, because that’s what we have to do, right?
“We have to eat three or more times a day. What we put in is what we get out. So taking in the best nutrient-filled foods that we can allows us to feel better and make us healthier.”
Many people can’t get to farmers markets or find the kind of homegrown produce and organic products they’d like in chain grocery stores.”
The Farmacy offerings will include produce, meats, cheeses, butters, milks, grains, honeys, jellies, pasta, candy, baked goods and more.
It would be possible for someone to do all their shopping at The Farmacy, Chantel said, but they expect most people to hone in on specific products to augment their regular shopping.
Sourcing the stock wasn’t as hard as it could have been, because the Helmicks had met so many purveyors through the farmers markets.
Some of their offerings will include butters, cheeses and yogurts from Chesapeake Gold Farms from Maryland, milks and creams from Lewes Dairy, baked goods from Old World Breads Bakery in Lewes, heritage lamb from Brittingham Farms in Millsboro, chicken and beef from Beyond Wits End Farm in Harrington, turkey and chicken from Mahone River Farm in Dover, pork from Piggott Family Farm in Harrington and even small-batch key lime pies from Coastal Key Lime Pies in Milton.
Customers on Wednesday were stunned at the range and depth of the food on display, including both frozen and fresh meats.
Products will be delivered several times a week, depending on what they are, Chantel said.
She expects to hire a couple of employees to handle the store because all four of the owners already have full-time jobs.
Chantel is a project manager at the Delaware Department of Information and Technology. Patrick teaches business at Milford High School.
Starting Saturday, The Farmacy will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.
It’s been amazing to watch their dream of having a brick-and-mortar location to offer high-quality foods become a reality, she said.
She’s had people from Maryland and other places ask if they plan to open more. They’d love to one day do that, she said, but the focus now is on the first.
“We pray that it does well,” she said, “and that people really love what we’re going for here and what we’re trying to produce and share with the community.”
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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