produce standsThere’s something charming about purchasing produce from the local vendors in your neighborhood. Knowing where the food that fills your plate comes from and recognizing the faces of those committed to filling your pantry with fresh ingredients creates a sense of belonging and community.

That personal touch may be one of the reasons why farm stands have climbed steadily in popularity across the country. Consumers perusing a local farm stand enjoy a firsthand experience when they know the name of the person behind the counter.

This is especially true for Florida residents who have access to the wide variety of fruit and produce stands dotted across the state landscape.

No-Frills, Small-Town Charm

“Many of our produce stands are open-air markets,” says Chris Denmark, development representative supervisor for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services. “They often have handwritten signs and products displayed in open bins.”

In short, these stands have a way of making Florida shoppers feel a little more at home. The stands may not be using the latest and greatest technology or spending a substantial portion of their budget on decor, but Denmark says the state’s fruit and produce stands are thriving despite their no-frills approach to marketing their merchandise.

“Our produce stands are the local connection the market owners and managers have to the community,” Denmark says. “In a small stand, the owner is usually the operator, buyer, cashier, stocker and maintenance employee — as well as the marketer. In many cases, they select every piece they display and sell, and their success is entirely dependent upon their ability to offer quality produce and customer service.”

produce stands

Photo by Michael D. Tedesco

All About the Customers

For Robert Moehling, Jr. of Robert Is Here, customer service is not only a crucial ingredient to the success of his business, but also his favorite part of the job.

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Robert Is Here is a family-owned-and-operated fruit stand in Homestead that’s been an integral part of the Florida community for more than 50 years. They specialize in rare and exotic fruits and vegetables, offering customers everything from mangoes and jackfruit to tomatoes and milkshakes. While the family business earned its stripes as a literal fruit stand on the side of the highway, it has since grown into a full-blown tourist destination with an animal farm, play area and picnic tables.

“We truly care about our customers,” Moehling says. “When people walk in and see all the exotic produce at our counter, we tell them all about it — what it tastes like and why they might like it. You don’t just shuffle in here, put items in a basket and move on. We want people to feel like family.”

Long Hours and Hard Work

While the fruit and produce stand industry is thriving and undeniably rewarding, it’s also challenging work that demands time, energy, and a passion to keep going when the going gets tough.

“All of your spare time goes to operating the business,” Don Bailey of Bailey’s Produce and Nursery says. Bailey runs his third-generation produce stand in Pensacola, but his grandfather founded the family business back in the 1930s. Depending on the season, they sell everything from spring plants and Christmas trees to juicy watermelons and decorative pumpkins.

While he, too, loves interacting with the consumers who frequent his establishment, Bailey knows firsthand how much behind-the-scenes work needs to happen to run a successful business. It’s not unusual for owners like Moehling and Bailey to clock 80 hours a week to keep their stands in business.

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“It’s a surprising amount of work,” Bailey says.

Long hours and hard work aside, the people behind Florida’s fruit and produce stands enjoy their jobs and have no plans to leave the industry behind.

“We sometimes feel like educational tour guides,” Moehling says. “We recommend restaurants, places to visit and tell people about all the unique things in our state. That’s a pretty cool job perk.”

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