If you wanted a historian on how the ever-changing economy has altered lifestyles in Southwest Colorado, you probably couldn’t find anyone better than Con Kemple.
Kemple is closing Farmers Supply Mill this month after operating the business since 1971. He took over the mill and animal supply store from the Kroeger family. The mill was originally started by F.W. Kroeger in 1926 as part of Kroegers Hardware, which began serving Durango and the Four Corners in 1921.
Farmers Supply Mill will hold an open house from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday. And the next week, Kemple and his wife and business partner, Jacque, will begin a 50 percent off sale until Farmers Supply’s stock of farm and ranch goods is gone. He plans to sell all the feed on hand and not restock.
“In 1972, there were 13 dairies in the area,” he said. “I made feed for all of them.”
The dairies gradually were bought and moved south to Farmington. Eventually, they moved to Albuquerque.
“Now, they’re all gone from Albuquerque,” Kemple said.
Many of Kemple’s clients now are smaller-scale ranchers, many of whom are raising livestock naturally.
“When I first came here, everyone I dealt with was a farmer or rancher running big operations. Over the years, they’ve all been cut up. They’re 20 or 40 acres, and now, I deal with the little guys. They have maybe two cows, six or eight sheep or 30 chickens,” he said.
In today’s agricultural economy, Kemple said, everyone has to have a second job to make ends meet.
“You can’t live in the country without another job. All you have to do is look out your window in the morning and see all the people coming in from Bayfield, Ignacio and Red Mesa. They’re all coming in for work,” he said.
Meredith Wheelock of Durango has been a regular customer “since she was about 4.” She was planning to stock up on several specialty products Kemple mixes on his own to help livestock thrive.
She was especially eager to stock up on “Winner’s Choice,” a multivitamin and mineral supplement for horses that Kemple mixes up.
“He’s literally the first call I make when anything happens with our horses. I call Con, and he gives me a nutritional plan for what we should do. Our vet asks: ‘Have you talked to Con.’”
When Farmers Supply was still part of Kroegers Hardware in the 1920s, it originally operated out of the location now occupied by Toh-Atin Gallery, 145 W. Ninth St.
Gradually, the mill has migrated all over town. From west Ninth Street, the mill moved to the Town Plaza area, where Kroegers Ace Hardware remains. The mill and farm and ranch supply kept traveling – to the plot now occupied by the DoubleTree Hotel and finally to its current location at 646 Sawmill Road.
Kemple credits three Durango families for the success Farmers Supply enjoyed since he took it on in 1971:
Fred and Jack Kroeger, sons of F.W., gave him equipment and building materials when the mill was relocated to its current location.
Paul and Steve Simon, who ran a packing house that existed next to the current location for Farmers Supply on Sawmill, traded 1½ acres to relocate the business for stock in the feed store.
Dick Turner and his son, Nick, at what was then the Bank of Durango, provided Farmers Supply a loan in the early 1970s when no other bank, not even the U.S. Small Business Administration, would offer credit.
“They all went out of their way to help me start and stay in business. I owe a lot to those people,” Kemple said.
Despite health issues – a detached retina has claimed the sight in Kemple’s right eye – the old hand isn’t completely ready for retirement.
Kemple still plans to make three specialty products he has developed over the years to help livestock owners – Bone Mender, Hoof Bio-Life and Hoof Soak.
He’ll probably make the mixes out of his garage.
Two of the three specialty products were developed by trial and error to help ranchers in the area, and Bone Mender was created to help a woman heal her foot in time to participate in a barrel race.
“Bone Mender will work with anything, horses, cattle, pigs, sheep and humans,” he said.
Kathy Jahnke, 74, of Durango swears by Bone Mender. She had hip-replacement surgery 16 years ago on her right hip and 15 years ago on her left hip. She said the concoction, which she took in capsules, greatly sped recovery and minimized post-operative pain.
“After the surgery, we pulled in here and got it (Bone Mender), and I’ll tell you what, it works,” she said.
Kemple, to stay clear of Food and Drug Administration regulations, said he always gives away Bone Mender when someone plans to take it for herself or himself.
But even with all Kemple’s wonder supplements, he said his 82-year-old body has worn thin. It’s time for retirement.
He would like to sell the business, but he’s been searching unsuccessfully for a buyer since July 2018.
The hardest part of closing, he said, is losing daily contact with the area’s farmers and ranchers.
“All my customers are not my customers; they’re my friends. I see grandsons and sons of the grandfather I first worked with,” he said. “That’s going to be the hardest part.”