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Retiree serves up produce, conversation

POSTED: July 10, 2013 5:06 p.m.
 

If you don’t grow your own tomatoes, or would like to take advantage of super fresh home-grown produce, take Hwy. 141 to Don’s Farmers Market.

Near First Redeemer Church, the charming, nearly 100-year-old little white house sits right on the busy road. I drive by it all the time, but had never stopped until recently.

It’s worth the effort just to meet Don Hairston, who runs the farmers market, and enjoy some conversation.

A Southerner through and through, the 79-year-old said he retired from the building industry a few years ago but knew he couldn’t sit around doing nothing.

“I was raised on a farm and have always worked hard,” he told me.

So four years ago, Don joined with the family who owns the house and opened the market. He has been happily running it ever since.

The shop is cozy and the produce fresh. Just what can you expect to find? Everything seasonal.

In early July, that means tomatoes (the really big ones), cantaloupe, cucumbers, blueberries and peaches, just to name a few. Oh, and the best, sweetest watermelon around.

Don also stocks his shop with other items. There are delicious jams, jellies and preserves of all types. There’s local honey, syrup and I walked away with some delicious cane molasses.

In his refrigerator, there is Amish butter (delicious) and Amish bacon, which we also tried and loved. In fact, I made the best bacon-lettuce-tomato-cheese sandwich.

Amish bacon, from a community in Ohio, is thicker than regular bacon and has a more meaty texture. The hickory smoke was not overpowering.

It does, however, take longer to cook. I baked it in a 350-degree oven on a rimmed sheet tray for about 20 minutes, and then drained off the grease and broiled it until crispy. It was wonderful.

Visitors to the farmers market also will find several varieties of cheese. We enjoyed the hoop cheese. Just let it come to room temperature for the best flavor.

I especially love that Don can tell you where every single item in his shop came from. He knows all of his vendors and can tell you about their farms, operation, etc. Quality is of the utmost importance to him.

“One of my customers asked me to carry raw milk, so I did some research and found a source for that,” he said.

Don shared how as a child he milked 200 cows every morning and then delivered the milk around Atlanta. He also makes boiled peanuts fresh every day.

“I like things to be fresh, so I soak them overnight and make a fresh batch every day,” he said. “I don’t really like leftovers.”

Don said his current peaches are from South Carolina because the ones in Georgia aren’t quite ready.

“The last few years the South Carolina peaches have been better because we just didn’t have enough water,” he said. “But hopefully this year we will have a good crop.”

I love that the house is decorated with beautiful folk art painted by Don’s daughter and artist Joycelyn Hairston. There also are assorted antiques for sale, adding to the ambiance.

While most farmers markets close up after the summer harvest, Don stays open year round, selling seasonal items.

“I drive up to a local Christmas tree farm and bring back trees that have just been cut,” he said. “I always have customers tell me their tree stayed beautiful the entire season.”

Customer satisfaction is of paramount importance to Don.

Being around when he is interacting with his customers is something special. Simply put, he loves them.

His kind, easy-going demeanor is what makes them loyal patrons, going out of their way to come in and get some tomatoes for supper, or a watermelon for an upcoming cookout.

Don even has an honor system where customers can weigh produce in front of the store and leave money for it in a box. That’s pretty much unheard of, but Don said the system has worked just fine.

Listening to Don tell stories about his childhood on a farm made me long for those simpler times.

I guess I will just have to settle for an episode or two of “The Andy Griffith Show.”

In any event, visit Don and help support our local farmers. And as an added bonus, you’re in for some awesome food.

 

Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at contact@adlenrobinson.com.

 

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