Harrys' Fruit Stand

In the summer of 1960, before my senior year in high school, the wholesale price for the strawberries we grew on our farm 4 miles north of South Haven barely covered our costs, yet the price in the stores was high. I suggested to my father that we try retailing them ourselves, so we talked to the Wickhams (or whoever it was then who owned the property known as the Wickham farm, which was about 5 miles north of South Haven on U.S. 31 (now Blue Star Highway)). They rented us a spot in front of their huge old barn (it is still there).

Dad hauled an old packing shed - which might have also served at one time as a turkey coop - to the spot and we opened for business. I don't remember what all we had besides strawberries, but I know we had eggs we kept much too long in an old ice box. For a scale, we had an antique device that looked something like this:

At the time, Dad was hauling stuff to the Hartford fruit exchange and brought me back some peach "seconds" he bought cheap. They weren't very nice, and when Don Barden, a prominent local grower, stopped by, he was not happy that I was selling such junk in an area known for its peaches and other orchard crops. He made sure I got good peaches from then on.

Although Dad got me set up and supplied me with whatever was in season on the farm, I was in charge of the stand. Dad had a farm to run. Somewhere, we found a 1950 Dodge Power Wagon pickup and I used that to haul produce to the stand, including from trips to the Benton Harbor wholesale produce market.

I was at the Wickham farm location just that first summer. The second summer, we moved to a vacant lot on the west side of Blue Star highway, about 3 blocks south of Phoenix Street in South Haven. We rented it from Tony Rumiez for $300 for the summer. We had no water, but we did have electricity provided by a long extension cord from a neighbor's house in back. Or maybe it was something rigged by uncle Cal Wheeler, who worked for the City. We used the bathroom at the gas station just south of us. We got a cash register and a more modern scale.

We were at this location a total of 5 summers, until I graduated from MSU and went to work for the Mason County Department of Social Services in Ludington.

We built an unattached addition to provide more display room and with the help of friend Dave Harrington, put up a sign. The sign posts were from trees we cut out of the front yard of Dave's home on the lakeshore in Ganges, north of South Haven. I painted all the signs.

Younger sister Cindy was my main employee, but I had others at times. We were seldom so busy that more than one person couldn't handle the traffic, but I also had to be on the road gathering produce. It was a huge responsibility for someone so young. We opened at about 9:00 in the morning and didn't close up until about 6:00, and we were open 7 days a week. For years after, I had a nightmare in which the summer was half over and I had not got the stand opened. After the first 2 or 3 years, however, I'd learned the business well enough that I began to enjoy it.

After a year or two, I bought a brand new Chevy pickup. You can see the front of it in the following picture. That is Cindy behind the counter.

The following picture was taken at the Benton Harbor market, where farmers hauled their produce in on open trucks and buyers swarmed around them to bid. I don't know any of the people in this picture, but years later, when I first started going to Horrocks market in Lansing, I recognized Mr. Horrocks as one of the buyers at the Benton Harbor market in the 60s.

On one of my trips to the Benton Harbor market, I got a deal on tomatoes and brought back 100 10-pound boxes of them. They were beautiful, but I don't know if we sold enough of them to get our money back.

I also occasionally made trips to the Grand Rapids wholesale produce market. As I remember, that market was very early in the morning.

Among the local farmers I bought from:

  • Harry Overhiser, who picked tree-ripened peaches right into half-bushel baskets and brought them to me.

  • Jimmy Marshall, whose farm was a half mile north of ours, specialized in sweet corn and had a market of his own on Blue Star highway, north of Baseline, part of the time I was in business.

  • Julian Bollaert, whose farm was several miles east of South Haven, raised melons, early sweet corn and zucchini. He had statuary around his home sculpted by his father, who I think was from Italy.

  • Bob Anderson had varieties of apples he'd developed himself; he farmed with his son-in-law Paul(?) Rood.

Stanley Johnston, the guy who developed the Haven peaches and has a park in South Haven named after him, once stopped by as a customer.

Sister Debbie, with Cindy helping out again, ran the market for 2 years after I left. Youngest sister Laura and husband Rich Barden took over the farm in 1986, and in 1995, they opened a farm market at the back of a used car sales lot at the northeast corner of Phoenix and Blue Star.

In 2011, they bought out the owners and converted the only permanent building on the lot, formerly a garage, into a modern market with running water, electricity, a bathroom, a website and everything.