To some, it’s a familiar sight in Highland County or many other rural communities — three or four farmers ready for a long day’s work in the fields gather at a local gas station for a cup of coffee and some conversation. But to Corey Cockerill, there’s something missing from that picture.
“They’re standing around drinking bad coffee at a gas station,” she said with a chuckle.
After that realization, Cockerill said, it was a no-brainer to open a coffee wagon, and that’s when Fertile Grounds Coffee and Roastery was born.
Cockerill, a 39-year-old associate professor at Wilmington College, lives with her husband and two children on their farm outside of Leesburg, where she roasts her own beans sourced through a coffee co-op.
“It’s kind of a mission,” Cockerill told The Times-Gazette. “We got started roasting coffee here at our house in February, we got the trailer in June, and it’s going really well… We just sort of roam to different locations every day in the surrounding counties… We try to keep it rural-farm focused. We won’t go anywhere near the big cities around us, and we try to just keep the menu pretty limited to coffee… We have some specialty drinks, but we tend to serve just coffee at most locations.”
After roasting the beans, Cockerill loads up the trailer and sets off for parts unknown – but mostly known, since she sets up the wagon’s weekly schedule and posts it to social media on Sundays.
For example, this past week, Cockerill set up in the center of Leesburg on Monday, visited the Fayette County Health Department in Washington Court House on Tuesday, stopped at Vital Fitness in Wilmington on Wednesday and hosted a private event Friday morning instead of her usual stop at JD Equipment in Washington Court House.
Cockerill said she generally spends Saturdays at the Hillsboro Farmers Market.
According to Debbie Sansone, executive administrative assistant for Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, street vendors who set up at the farmers market here don’t have to obtain solicitor’s licenses from the city, but rather sign paperwork with the Hillsboro Farmers Market per an arrangement with the city.
Although the Hillsboro Farmers Market is generally a Saturday staple for the coffee wagon, Cockerill said, that’s subject to change, as is the case with her schedule in general.
“I have to figure out how to consolidate at this point, because there’s too many coffee needs, honestly,” she said. “Lots of companies want food trucks to come to their locations because they don’t have the resources to have a cafeteria, or their employees only have 20 minutes to get lunch or consume food during their break. Having food trucks on site makes it easy for employees to get the food they need and have diversity in their food selection.”
Cockerill said she’s been surprised at how popular the wagon’s visits have become – and even more surprised at the “personalities” of each stop.
“People buy beans at the farmers market for the whole week, and they tend to just get a coffee while they look at stuff,” Cockerill said. “If we go to JD Equipment in Washington Court House, they’re just sweet tea and black coffee. But if I go to the Fayette County Health Department, they order all the specialty drinks, everything to the max – whipped cream, chocolate drizzle… all that.”
At Vital Fitness in Wilmington, Cockerill said the first items to go are her specialty milks.
“We go out of skim milk first,” she said.
Cockerill said her favorite stop is Leesburg in the center of town, since the people who usually show up are the local farmers she originally intended to serve.
“Every stop has a personality,” Cockerill said. “I don’t know if we would get that at a brick-and-mortar shop. We want to keep it tiny, keep it small, even hyper-local.”
With its own generator, the trailer can be set up anywhere and doesn’t require any hookups.
“It can really go anywhere,” she said, “like in the middle of a soybean field if we need it to.”
Cockerill, who teaches communication arts and agriculture at Wilmington College, said the coffee wagon affords her two children, ages 7 and 10, an opportunity to interact with more people than many children their age.
“They’re of the age where they can handle working with me for a couple hours,” she said. “It’s nice to have them talking to people and not be stuck inside. We’re averse to technology over the summer. I say, ‘You have to talk to people, you have to have conversations, you have to have small talk with people.’ In my field, that’s a skill set that parents can’t just show their kids. You just have to put them out there and participate in real conversations.”
When the coffee wagon isn’t around, Cockerill said, those wanting to try Fertile Grounds roasts can stop by Batter Up Bakery in Leesburg to pick some up.
Cockerill said while she plans to roast and sell fresh beans year-round, the wagon’s stops will taper off when the weather cools. Until then, she said, she hopes people continue to build their community over a good cup of coffee wherever Fertile Grounds shows up.
“People love to just hang out outside the trailer and tell us stories,” Cockerill said. “We’ll have people stop at the farmers market and stand there for like an hour.”
And that’s exactly what she wanted from the beginning.
Fertile Grounds Coffee and Roastery can be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter by searching the name.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.