Fresh foods from the Farmers Daughter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 28, 2000

Mananger of The Farmers Daughter, 20-year-old Ben Campbell, is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Paul Skipper, who owned and operated the old Master Market grocery in downtown Greenville for more than 20 years. The small operation is located in a tent on Fort Dale Road near I-65.

Photo by Angie Long

By Angie Long

Staff Writer

Far across the great Atlantic, the citizens of Europe have a tradition particularly strong in the cities and towns of France. Known for their fabulous food, French people have always wanted the freshest, highest-quality fruits and vegetables for their meals, and the supplier of choice usually isn't the local supermarket. Instead, they journey to the "marches de plein air"- open-air markets offering a wide array of fresh produce, flowers, and other plants, delivered straight from the gardens, fields and trees of their farmers.

Butler County folks can experience the same quality and freshness of produce when they shop at a Greenville business known as "The Farmer's Daughter". It's a genuine open-air market operating seven days a week, rain or shine.

Beneath its striking green and white awning is a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables and a variety of hanging floral baskets, bedding plants, tropical vines and more.

The market might be more aptly named "The Grocer's Grandson", since it is managed by 20-year-old Ben Campbell, whose granddad, Paul Skipper, owned and operated the old Master Market grocery downtown from 1967 to 1984.

Ben, a tall, easy-going young man with a ready smile, attends LBW in the evenings and plans a career in forestry technology. Ben's always loved the outdoors, he says, and he really enjoys playing this active role in the family's business venture.

And this market truly is a family affair. Young Ben manages it, working five days a week; on weekends, his mom Judy takes the helm, aided by Todd and Lisa, Ben's younger brother and sister.

Ben's dad, Henry, is the deliveryman for the business. He makes frequent runs to suppliers to insure there's always a good selection of produce for shoppers to choose from.

Ben and Henry credit another family member, Ben's aunt, Julie Weisner, for inspiring them to start the business in the first place. Several years ago, Mrs. Weisner opened a small produce stand in the West Palm Beach area of Florida. Today

Weisner's market,the original "Farmer's Daughter",is a large and flourishing business and it serves as one of the Campbell family market's main suppliers of beautiful tropical flowers, trees and plants. (They also use a supplier in aptly named Plant City, Fla.)

Unloading the trucks filled with box after box of fresh tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, squash, grapefruit, watermelons, and so much more is definitely Ben's least favorite part of the job-quite understandable in the 90-plus degree temperatures and soaring humidity of an Alabama summer.

Still, Ben finds the pain of unloading fresh produce is outweighed by the pleasure of meeting new people. The family chose the market's location-a spot right between Taco Bell and the Exxon station on Ft. Dale Road-in hopes of attracting some of the interstate traffic.

"We do get a fair amount of people stopping by from off the interstate. During spring break, we had customers from as far away as Michigan," Ben explains.

Unfortunately, not as many local folks as Ben would like realize the business is here.

"We do sit pretty far back from the highway," Ben admits, adding, " I guess a lot of people miss seeing us back here."

The Campbells now have a large sign right off the highway in hopes of catching more potential customers' eyes.

Their customer base is steadily growing thanks in large part to their top produce seller fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes. Because these tomatoes aren't subjected to any of the dyes, gasses or chemical treatments commercial produce conventionally receives, they have a much better texture and taste than the "store-bought" ones, claims Ben's dad Henry. In fact, some customers have called them "the best in town", the Campbells say.

However, supplying this untreated produce requires Ben to allow time each morning sorting through all the tomatoes, removing any that show signs of going "bad."

He feels it's worth all the time and effort in order to provide local customers with a superior tomato. With obvious pride, Ben states all their fruits and vegetables are guaranteed to be straight off the vine, fresh out of the field or directly from the tree.

In terms of plants, Ben says their beautiful, exotic mandevilla vines and hibiscus plants are the top sellers at "The Farmer's Daughter".

He is quick to point out his willingness to special order any plant or tree a customer wants if it's available. They also stock colorful pots of mixed zinnias, flowering hanging baskets, palm and ficus trees, unique bedding plants and more.

This young business manager has aspirations for the open-air market to expand.

He would like to become a vendor to locally owned restaurants. (The market already supplies one of the local florists with some of their plant needs.)

The Campbells also plan to carry seasonal items: pumpkins in the fall and Christmas trees, for example.

Suppose you're looking for a basket of luscious Chilton County peaches, some really fresh citrus fruit, or a juicy watermelon.

Maybe you've got a hankering for a bag of hot boiled peanuts or you'd love to brighten your porch or deck with a pot of brilliant orange, pink, and red zinnias.

If so, then stop by and see local entrepreneur Ben Campbell at "The Farmer's Daughter".

He's ready and waiting to supply the local population with the fresh taste of European tradition combined with good ol' southern hospitality.