Roadside Vegetable Stands: Homegrown Scams?

 

Human ignorance – as well as greed – knows no bounds.”  How painfully true.  The ignorance has been mine, by the way…

 

If you’ve read any of my recent diatribes on the safety of our food supply in the United States, you may have formed the opinion that I am something of a highly alarmed purist.  I am.  I firmly believe in the adage that you are what you eat and I further strongly hold the belief that we are suffering a slow death by food poisoning at the hands of a most beleaguered and complacent government, as well as a nefarious underbelly of criminal activity coming from home and certainly abroad.

 

If you’ve read any of my recent diatribes, you know I strongly support local farmers and seek them out at every opportunity to provide me with fresh fruits and vegetables, so that I can spend untold hours canning them for future consumption.  I am, indeed, a “control freak” and derive a huge amount of pleasure in hand-selecting and hand-preserving the foods I want to provide for my family.  I love to eat and I love to cook.  So perhaps it’s easy to understand why canning and food preservation has long been a hobby of mine and one I enjoy immensely.  But with today’s reality of unsafe commercially available fruits and vegetables, my hobby has become a necessity in my world.

 

I have declared the harvest season of 2007 to be my own Year of the Canner and I have great plans for the months ahead.  With the first Brandywine tomato fruit appearing on my single patio plant, I find the call of Spring to be yelling for me to get started!  Shine up the water bath, Sheila – the Maters have arrived!

 

As my fiancé and I set out upon a journey toward Tulsa last Wednesday, excitement was in the air!  I had a copy of the WSJ to read aloud along the way (which to limited extent prevents me from being as bad of a back seat driver as my mother), and my handy-dandy notebook was nearby to record my findings during the drive.  Tops on my radar were farmer’s markets and roadside stands I just knew would be found around a myriad of corners, bursting forth with delicious homegrown finds.

 

I made judicious notes as to their precise locations for the return drive home.  All along the drive and during our stay in Tulsa, I reiterated my need and intent to Tom to purchase a truckload full of juicy homegrown tomatoes to can into sauces and salsas and jars upon jars of beautiful whole tomatoes for the Winter ahead.

 

God bless this man for his limitless patience.  😉

 

There are seven roadside vegetable stands between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Plano, Texas along US Highways 75 and 69, and Tom and I stopped at all but one on our way home on Friday.  Our resounding common opinion of same in the aftermath?  Scams abound.

 

Instead of finding basket after basket of juicy, flavorful, homegrown tomatoes, we reaped bushels in tremendous disappointment in the quality of the tomatoes available and discovered what we believe is a scam, this time preying upon idiots like me determined to pay any price for homegrown food.

 

Being an opportunist is not a crime in the US, yet I believe the hoax found at each stop along the way to be very much a crime.  These stands have lost any business from me forever and I encourage you to be very careful where you spend your food funds, too.  If you don’t know for a certainty where and how vegetables and fruits are grown, don’t buy them.

 

These seven stands hold a lot in common.  They are identical in looks and ambiance, possessing that wholesome decrepit white-washed charm that draws me in like a fly to…well…a freshly sliced tomato.  Secondly, they were each manned by people who not only had no information about what they were selling, but really couldn’t care less about selling their stuff to us anyway.  Not one of them offered us a purchase-ensuring taste of our tomato heaven ahead.

 

Thirdly, ALL of their tomatoes and peaches were identical, were commercially-grown, were tasteless, smell-less, mealy and hard as rocks.  Next was the fact that each of the seven stands sold completely identical foods and honeys, without variation.  And the final Coup de Gras is that some of the folks at these stands downright lied to us and represented their overtly commercial tomatoes as “homegrown.”

 

With complete sincerity and authority, I tell you that there is NO local produce to be found in the following vegetable stands.  They import their stuff at the lowest possible price, tell you it’s “homegrown” and sell it for egregiously expensive amounts.

 

I hereby present the EHeavenlyGads List of the Seven Vegetable Stands NOT to Stop At Between Tulsa and Dallas:

 

Southbound Stop No. 1:  a roadside stand called “Preston Produce” in Preston, OK.  The first stop just “looked right” to me.  The place even had a sagging roof and a highly tattooed young woman standing guard over their wares.  The place had tomatoes and peaches and a short ton of jars of “Pure Red River Honey” produced by J&S Produce of Calera, OK.

 

This gal, we would soon discover, was the only honest roadside food vendor along the drive.  The tomatoes, she said, had just arrived by truck from Florida from some commercial grower down there.  She didn’t know who, but they had a lot.  The peaches were from Texas somewhere.  Upon inspection (and after finally convincing her to give us a bite), the tomatoes were mealy and utterly flavorless.  The tomatoes from Albertson’s tasted better than these! They were obviously picked green, as is the commercial requirement for long transports, and were as hard as baseballs.  Five bucks for five tomatoes was the going rate.  Egads!  A buck a piece for a tomato that tastes a lot worse than the $.79 per pound maters I can find in my local supermarket?  Hell, no!

 

To prevent complete dismay, we purchased a jar of the honey with its gold label stuck askew.  Five bucks for a 16-ounce jar covered in dust. While I haven’t tasted the honey yet, I’ve bought it before.  It’s nothing terribly special and much better stuff is around, but with the honey bee crisis, I though it advantageous to grab a jar while I could.

 

I was unable to properly communicate my disgust with the tomatoes to Tom, who ended up buying five of the egregiously overpriced baseballs, too.  This wonderful man was still caught up in my hype to buy a truckload of tomatoes and I know he just thought we’d better get started fast!  Nevertheless, a short communication back in the truck illuminated my desire to buy quality over quantity.  I wanted homegrown, or nothing at all.

 

Again, God bless this man for his limitless patience…

 

Southbound Stop No. 2:  a roadside stand in Okmulge, immediately south of 6th Street on the southbound side.  This decrepit building had the added charm of squeeking floors.  They had the same going rate of $5 for 5 tomatoes that were also identical to the first ones we saw:  pink, mealy and hard as baseballs, with no tomato scent whatsoever.  Tom took the lead and asked the middle-aged gal behind the counter where their tomatoes came from.  She immediately said “Florida” with a smile, but was quickly “corrected” by a fellow off to the side, who claimed to have just brought the crop back from East Texas.  All homegrown, he said.  (Beware of Stand Scam Boy!)   They did have some lovely looking Celebrity and Big Boy plants for sale at in half quart pots for $5 a piece, and the same exact jars of honey.  But as admirers of heirloom tomatoes, we weren’t in the market for plants or more of the same honey, so off we went.

 

This fellow became the object of lengthy discussions back in the truck.  He said all the things we wanted to hear.  “Yep, they’re homegrown.  Yep, they’re good.  Yep, they’re fresh.”  And thus began an inkling of suspicion that we were smelling a scam going on…people claiming to offer “homegrown” vegetables, who in reality, were trying to make a buck off of unsuspecting folks.    After all, I and we DO know the difference between commercial tomatoes and the REAL ones lovingly grown and nurtured.

 

One point Tom made at this point was profound.  People who grow their own tomatoes, especially, are inherently proud of their crops, because they are not the easiest of vegetables to grow.  These folks can answer ever conceivable question you may have on their variety, any problems they had with insects and the like, what they used to fix various challenges during growth, how long ago they were picked, etc., etc.  And they can’t WAIT to slice off a bite so you can taste just how wonderful their tomatoes are!

 

The same thing rings true among quilters and cattle growers and soap makers and hooch brewers.  They are always proud to show the fruits of their hard labors and more than happy to talk your ears off about every step of the process.  Get me started on my candymaking and you’ll understand what I mean.

 

Not here, though.  Not from Stand Scam Boy, who probably made sure Middle-Aged Gal NEVER told potential customers who followed us that the tomatoes came from Florida again….

 

Southbound Stop No. 3:  a roadside vegetable stand in Savanna, Oklahoma, immediately south of McAlester and right across the street from the Finish Line gasoline and convenience store stop.  Same decrepit white-washed house.  Same pink, mealy, hard-as-baseballs tomatoes selling for $5 for a basket of five.  Same exact lack of information, other than the tomatoes just came by truck from Florida (or
East Texas or somewhere).  They had the same exact jars of “Pure Red River Honey” selling for $5 a piece, too, as well as hard-as-rocks and scentless peaches they claimed were from Mexia.  Pretty impatients, though…

 

Southbound Stop No. 4:  a roadside stand in Stringtown, called the Stringtown Fruit Stand.  Yep, the same falling-down, white-washed ambiance with Florida commercial-grown tomatoes selling at $5 for a basket of five, although these folks blatantly claimed these were all homegrown.  They also claimed to have brought their peaches from Mexia, but they were also hard and totally scentless.  Lots and lots of jars of “Pure Red River Honey” from Calera, though.

 

By the way and for the record, growing delicious, juicy peaches is just as much a religion in Texas as it is in Georgia.  And if you ever have the opportunity to taste one freshly plucked from a tree in Mexia, or from Wise County, you will immediately understand how I know these peaches along the road did NOT come from Mexia.

 

At this point, Tom and I were becoming a bit suspicious that there is one semi making rounds of all of these roadside stands selling them their allotment of commercial tomatoes and likely commercial peaches.  Heck, could all of these stands be owned by the same folks…maybe from the same commercial grower supplying them??  What are the odds that we would run into Stand Scam Boy’s mother in an identical stand down the road?

 

Southbound Non-Stop No. 5:  a roadside stand between Stringtown and Atoka on the northbound side.  This identical decrepit white-washed stand brought a raised-eyebrow exchange of glances between Tom and I, because it had a lady in her 70s who came to watch over us (not greet us).  Surely someone reminiscent of my mother would be selling homegrown tomatoes!  Well, Hell no.  She had the same $5 for five tomato baskets as everyone else so far, and they were pink, mealy and hard.  She didn’t know where “they” got the tomatoes and peaches, but they arrived on a big truck just the day or so before.  And she also sported the very same jars of honey as everyone else, also selling for $5 a piece.

 

She even resembled Stand Scam Boy a little.  You could see the resemblance in their eyes…

 

Southbound Stop No. 6 was supposed to be a roadside stand in Atoka about a mile south of 13th Street on the Northbound side.  I don’t know where I saw this one on the drive up, because it was no where to be found on the drive home.  Must have been a mirage.

 

Southbound Stop No. 7:  a roadside stand just south of Calera on the northbound side of US 75.  In this decrepit, white-washed falling-down stand, we were greeted (sort of) by a woman in her 60s.  Her tomatoes, she claimed, were homegrown beauties from East Texas and the peaches just plucked from trees in Mexia.  Hmm…  $5 for a basket of five that were pink, mealy, but not quite as “pretty” as the others (their only redeeming feature, in my book).

 

Tom noticed large boxes beneath the shelf of basketed tomatoes hailing from Florida and each full to the top with even less ripe tomatoes than those in baskets.  This lady, a quicker wit, declared that the boxes are all reused.  (Really?  These we saw were all brand spanking new.  Not a smudge, dent or damp spot in sight.)  And while the boxes say the tomatoes are a product of a Florida commercial grower, she said that’s not true.  (Yeah, right.)  The tomatoes were definitely from East Texas, she declared.

 

I don’t think so, Scooter!  But we bought a basket anyway, since these had at least an ever-so-slight scent of tomatoes.  We passed on her “Mexia peaches” and the ever-ready supply of jars of “Pure Red River Honey” found in every place we had stopped.

 

Mind you now, that I have nothing whatsoever against tomatoes grown in Florida, or peaches either.  However, it totally ticks me off to find stand after stand hawking commercially-grown vegetables and fruits as “homegrown.”  To me, that is nothing less than fraud.  It’s lying and the intent is definitely to deceive the buyer.  After all, if you knew these tomatoes were commercially-grown at all, moreover imported across several states at the beginning of our own tomato harvest season, would you buy them?

 

It now would not surprise either Tom or I to uncover a single truck making its rounds up US 75 from stand to stand delivering the commercial fruits and vegetables that the stands turn around and fraudulently represent as “homegrown.”  That’s despicable, but certainly a likely reality in this world.  It’s merely a way for folks to make a buck, and they don’t care how.

 

Caveat emptor, boys and girls…!  Think those roadside stands are as wholesome as they appear?  Think again.  And that’s a real shame for those honorable folks who do sell their vegetables in that manner.   I know the good guys are out there somewhere, but I can authoritatively decree that they are NOT along the roadways between Plano and Tulsa that I have identified above.

 

So, where does one find REAL homegrown fruits and vegetables around cities these days?  Short of growing your own, it takes a little digging to find them, pardon the pun.

 

In the Dallas area, the only really reliable organic grocer is Whole Foods.  At least they demand exacting standards from their providers, who are as local as possible, and enforce bans upon a whole long nasty list of chemicals and pesticides found commonly in our commercial vegetable and fruit supplies in the other grocers.  But you will pay a premium, let me assure you.

 

Another recommended option for everyone is to find a “Certified” Farmer’s Market.  Every state and the USDA itself provide a list of those available in your area.

 

A fantastic site that lists markets and farms nationally is at http://www.localharvest.org

 

The USDA has a national database of certified markets and organic growers at http://www.ams.usda.gov and you can click on your state to find those nearby.

 

If you are so blessed as to live in the Great Nation of Texas, see http://www.picktexas.com and click on the links at the top of the page to find local farmers selling at a market near you, or who invite you to pick your own at their farms.

 

With luck, diligence and a lot of prayers, perhaps 2007 will be my Year of the Canner after all.

 

And you can be absolutely assured that I will be stopping at Conrad Farms in Bixby the next time we head for Tulsa.  They grow every vegetable they sell on their farm and they have been doing so for a long, long time.  Read about the Conrad family here:  http://www.conradfarmsmarket.com/History.html and then poke around their site.  I can’t wait to get there in person!

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7 responses to “Roadside Vegetable Stands: Homegrown Scams?

  1. The 2 Witches

    Wow …. color me gullible. It never once occured to me that my local stands could be selling other than their own homegrown produce.

    Thank you for sharing!!

    Mama Kelly

  2. Hopefully, our 45 tomato plants will produce enough to can this summer. My husband and girls can’t wait for their first taste of a real tomato. By the way, my mother-in-law buys from the Preston market until her tomatoes are ripe. I’ll have to see if she has purchased any this year or not. lol Good luck on your hunt!

    EHeavenlyGads: Celia, I am jealous! 45 plants??? GOOD FOR ALL OF YOU! I have one lone Brandywine plant that is nearly six feet tall, but won’t deliver any ripe fruits for another two weeks, at least. But when it does… Very best wishes to you and yours!

  3. I’m glad you brought up the “not so honest” roadside stands. We have quite a few of them set up this year (2007) that are selling produce you can find in your local grocery store and charging a lot for it! It’s too bad and very dishonest trying to pass it off as Bixby produce or Porter Peaches.
    I am the owner of Sooner Produce at 91st & Harvard in Tulsa, Ok. I sell only vine ripened tomatoes–NEVER hot house, hydroponic or picked green. I started out 20 years ago bringing Bixby produce “closer in” to the Tulsa area so people didn’t have to go all the way to Bixby. Over the past 20 years we have lost quite a few farmers there. Unfortunately, there are only about four major farmers left in Bixby, none of which specialize in tomatoes.
    Therefore, I drive to Missouri and as far as Illinois for tomatoes buying them from farmers that pick them AFTER they turn red. And I am not afraid of telling people where they come from! I carry the best home grown, vine ripened tomatoes I can–they just might not be from “our home”. I still carry LOCAL green beans, corn, peaches, watermelon, squash, okra and other items as they are available.
    My main goal is to provide produce to Tulsans that tastes REAL and delicious. I don’t think anyone really cares where tomatoes come from as long as they are red and have a rich acidic/sweet taste AND are from the United States.
    Please come visit us on the corner of 91st & Harvard and now our new location at 21st & Harvard! Thanks, Jeff

    EHeavenlyGads: Jeff, I deeply appreciate your comment. It is FANTASTIC to know about you, since I am in Tulsa about once every two months. I promise to stop in to shake your hand personally sometime this Summer and am thrilled to have the vegetable shopping experience ahead!

    You are 100% dead-on accurate in stating folks don’t care what state their tomatoes are from, as long as they are picked ripe, taste great and hail from somewhere in the USA. Thank you for hanging in there — please DO keep it up!

  4. If you are looking for fresh produce you might try Fox’s Produce in Elkhart, Texas. They have been in business for a long time and raise most of their stuff. They also buy locally. My farm Elliott family farm near Grapeland, Texas also raise produce, southern peas and beans. They are picked and shelled on site. They are not organic and we make no such claim, as we do have to use a certain amount of herbicide to control vicious weeds. We are working towards an organic operation because it is cost efficient and better all the way around but in order tho make that claim we must control our weed problem then remain chemical free as per USDA regulations. FYI ….Overall, certified organic cropland and pasture accounted for about 0.5 percent of U.S. total farmland in 2005. Only a small percentage of the top U.S. field crops?corn (0.2 percent), soybeans (0.2 percent), and wheat (0.5 percent)?were grown under certified organic farming systems. On the other hand, organic carrots (6 percent of U.S. carrot acreage), organic lettuce (4 percent), organic apples (3 percent) and other fruit and vegetable crops were more commonly organic grown in 2005. Markets for organic vegetables, fruits, and herbs have been developing for decades in the United States, and fresh produce is still the top-selling organic category in retail sales. Organic livestock was beginning to catch up with produce in 2005, with 1 percent of U.S. dairy cows and 0.6 percent of the layer hens managed under certified organic systems.
    I don’t like to use chemicals either, but they are necessary for us to achieve our ultimate goal.
    Rest assured many producer like myself are making the change.
    Yours,
    Sam Elliott

    EHeavenlyGads: Mr. Elliott, thank you for finding my post and for placing your comment. I deeply appreciate knowing about you now and will happily assist your endeavors by promoting you however I can here. I know where Elkhart and Grapeland are located — a brief sojourn east off of I-45 between Centerville and Fairfield (headed North). I go to Houston several times a year also and will definately be headed your way sometime toward the end of Summer. So I look forward to shaking your hand personally and thanking you for leading me to you.

    Again, I cannot thank you enough for posting here, and especially for your own information regarding organics. My very best to you and yours, and for a most successful season ahead.

  5. when you get ready my e-mail is shootist_75844@yahoo.com Rev. Fox in on u.s. 287 south just past the Lakeview road.
    _Sam

    EHeavenlyGads: Thank you for your email address, Sam, and certainly for the specifics on how to find you! I hope others in our vacinity will use this information to find you, too!

  6. Bye the bye, we are growing pinkeyes and cream pea varieties developed at Arkansas Agricultural experiment Station at Kibler, Arkansas. The are sweeter and have a better texture than the old varieties. The pinkeye came from the old Red Ripper but it is a bush type. Good pea.

    These varieties were developed using traditional crossbreeding techniques that have been around since the Middle Ages.

    Our farm web page is http://www.wepstec.com/ElliottFamilyFarm

  7. Just wanted you to know that I have 15 tomato plants with your future tomatoes growing on them, bar hail or tornado or whatever that I want to sell to you off of Hwy 75 later this summer. And I will sell them to you with the same loving care with which I am raising them as organically as possible without being certified…

    EHeavenlyGads: Cheri, I apologize for the delay, since I’ve been traveling non-stop for five months now… I VERY MUCH appreciate your comment and will absolutely come by. Just send me your location. I reside in north Dallas and would not hesitate to take a road trip with the husband and pup on any Saturday, or even during the week myself. Nothing is too much trouble to find good home grown tomatoes and I would love to do everything I can to promote your own efforts as widely as I can. So please don’t hesitate to post your location here, or send me an email to eheavenlygads at gmail dot com. I bet your tomatoes are going to be outstanding and I look forward to buying and tasting them myself!!!

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