Father, son produce team

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 14, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — The name says it all. Tim Hoffner built Father & Son Produce because, quite simply, this father wanted to work with his son.
Or maybe it was the other way around.
Mark Hoffner wanted to learn the farm business from his dad. But Tim and Linda Hoffner had stopped production on Cedar Tree Farm in Mount Ulla to sell produce full time at the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market.
The 120-mile daily round trip to Colfax was too far for Mark, who has a family in Rowan. So father and son — and mother — went into business together at 1774 Sherrills Ford Road, near the N.C. 150 intersection.
Their new fresh produce store opened last week. Along with Jon Barber’s My Farm Fresh Marketplace on South Main Street and Evelyn and Bud Cagle’s Variety Produce in Rockwell, Father & Son offers fruits and veggies grown as close to home as possible.
Unlike seasonal farmers markets, these specialty shops are mostly indoor and open year-round. The owners are banking on the burgeoning local food movement and an increased awareness in Rowan County that we are what we eat.
They partner with local growers. In the off season, they offer produce grown in Florida.
Prices on many items are 30 percent to 40 percent lower than grocery stores.
“People want to know where their food comes from,” said Kim Rector, whose 20-acre Keeper Creek Farm in Mount Ulla supplies My Farm Fresh Marketplace. “You go to a grocery store, and you don’t know where it comes from or what they did to it.”
Tim and Linda Hoffner farmed for more than 20 years and became founding members of the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market in 1995.
For three years, they worked both the farm and the market, every day.
“But as the business grew, I was doing a sorry job there and a sorry job on the farm,” Tim Hoffner said. “Then we decided one has to go.”
The farm had grown so big — selling more than 40 tons of jalapeno peppers to Food Lion in one year — the Hoffners would’ve had to automate to continue.
So they turned their attention to retail.
Now, with seven employees in Colfax and the Salisbury store capable of employing 12 depending on demand, the Hoffners joke they’re in over their heads again.
“Are we stupid or what? Running two markets at once,” Linda Hoffner said.
But they have help. Mark Hoffner manages Father & Son, where wife Ashley and sister Carla also work. The Hoffners hope their six cash registers will be ringing up customers all year long.
Painted with stripes the colors of cantaloupe and honeydew, the airy market has an outdoor feel. The asphalt parking lot, loading dock and two walk-in coolers were major investments, although the Hoffners declined to say how much money they’ve sunk into the business.
Father & Son restocks daily with fresh produce from distribution centers in Winston-Salem and Columbia, S.C. They will source their produce from Georgia, then South Carolina and eventually North Carolina as the weather warms.
“A big part of the business is developing those contacts and relationships,” said Tim Hoffner, who wakes before sunrise and sometimes unloads a truck as late as 2 a.m.
Father & Son soon will carry certified organic produce grown in California and milk from Organic Valley, a cooperative including Tim Hoffner’s cousin at Hoffner Organic Farms in Mount Ulla.
Sales at My Farm Fresh Marketplace have doubled every month since opening in October, said Barber, who owns the business with Joey Emmons, Debora Coleman and Bill Barber Jr.
Barber is on a mission to improve Rowan County’s health and plans to launch a mobile market soon to provide poor neighborhoods with easier access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
“The way food is grown has an impact on its nutritional value,” he said.
Barber considers the label “organic” confusing and instead partners with farmers who grow their food “naturally,” using little or no pesticides.
New offerings include grass-fed beef from Circle D Farm in a grilling pack or slow-cooker pack, as well as customized boxes of produce for $20 to $40 available online for in-store pick up.
The granddaddy of all Rowan fresh markets, Variety Produce in Rockwell has been open for 30 years. The Cagles bought the business in 2002.
“People are much more interested in local foods,” Evelyn Cagle said.
Cagle, who has six employees, said her produce costs have doubled in nine years, and now vendors include a fuel surcharge.
“Of course profit margins have dropped, because I can’t pass all of that on to my customers,” she said.
New at Variety Produce is grass-fed, grain-finished beef from Burleson Farms.
The three markets don’t see each other as competition but as businesses with the same mission.
“This is helping everyone grow the local food economy,” Barber said.
Grocery stores often carry produce bred to be shipped, which can sacrifice flavor and nutrients.
Fresh produce markets can offer more delicate varieties bred for flavor and texture, and their customers can bite into fruits and veggies a few hours after harvest.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

Get it fresh
Father &?Son Produce
1774 Sherrills Ford Road
7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

My Farm Fresh Marketplace
3402 S. Main St.
8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Closed Sunday

Variety Produce
415 W. Main St., Rockwell
8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday