The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Money

July 6, 2014

Roadside market thriving seasonally in Daniels

The fruit and vegetable stand is one of the last bastions of free enterprise, one of the last true family businesses left that has not been swallowed up by corporations and conglomerates.

And whether you’re craving a sweet and juicy peach, cantaloupe or watermelon or filling your basket for an entire week’s worth of cooking, there’s nothing more tempting on a hot summer day than a roadside market, packed to the hilt with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

In fact, with fresh garden produce becoming more popular among a majority of Americans, small roadside fruit and vegetable stands are busy carving out their own market share, bumping and edging one another out for prime locations.

Just ask Earl Long, owner of Daniels Farmers Market at 2017 Ritter Drive on U.S. 19-21 near Green River Nursery in Daniels. His stand is open seasonally June through October at his new location in front of his family’s 12-acre home place.

“Early on in the summer season, until the local crops are ready for harvest here in southern West Virginia, I make one or two trips south each day to the Southwestern Farmers Market in Hillsville, Va.,’’ Long explained. “I truck the produce back to my stand until about the middle of July, when local farmers’ crops start coming in.’’

Formerly, Long’s produce market was located at Beaver Elementary School. This year the Shady Spring native moved closer to his home, and he’s already started to expand his business, building onto his shaded frame roadside structure where the businessman offers corn, half-runners, sweet Vidalia onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, white potatoes, peaches, cantaloupes, watermelons, transparent apples, strawberries and more.

Long deals mainly with local farmers, however, during late summer and early fall.

“We especially want to help the young farmers,’’ Long said. “We’re interested in helping youngsters who are growing crops as school FFA projects or with the help of USDA support, those who need help in getting their produce to market. We get a lot of fruits and vegetables from students at Liberty High School. We buy everything we can when the crops are harvested during early fall.’’

He added, ‘’If students only bring in a single basket of tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries or peaches, just to make a few extra bucks, we’ll buy them.’’

Long said that eventually he would like to create a business that stays open year round.

The entrepreneur rises early, around 3 a.m., and heads south in his truck. His stand opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m., seven days a week. The job keeps him busy.

“We’re getting ready to expand, and maybe hire a couple more people,’’ he said.

The secret, meanwhile, to operating a successful fruit and vegetable stand is selling quality products.

“We plan on keeping it that way,’’ Long said. “We don’t cut corners when it comes to our produce. We’re honest with people. If something is wrong, we’ll make it right.’’

He noted that harvest times already are working their way north.

“We’ll soon be getting most of our stuff locally. We have a good supplier of corn. He checks in a couple of times each week to let me know how the crops are going. Soon we’ll be able to offer fresh eggs, honey, West Virginia apples and peaches, homemade soap and lotions.

“We’re also trying to buy as close to organic as possible, and we encourage our customers to save the seeds of our heirloom tomatoes and plant them next year. I have about 175 tomato plants growing behind my house up on the hill.’’

Long added, “When you buy locally, you help local people. The most rewarding part of this business is seeing the smiles on the customers’ faces when they come by to buy our produce. Making people happy is well worth the effort.’’

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