Fresh produce stands carry on roadside traditions in growing Wilmington area

During the summer, Will Peterson likes to sell farmers’ fresh fruits and vegetables at his stand in Rocky Point.

A dirt bike started it all. With the help of his parents, Christal and Dereck Peterson, the 11-year-old opened Will-Will’s Market in 2021.

“I feel great,” Will said.

Located at 10815 US 117 S. in South Pender County, the produce stand is one of many carrying on a tradition of roadside produce shopping, though department stores continue to bring in competition. In a community that continues to grow due to its proximity to Wilmington and the beaches to the east, Christal believes her son’s services are needed.

“People want fresh, local produce,” she said. “It’s something that’s starting to diminish with all the housing estates and farmland being sold off. I think that’s why it’s been such a big hit here.”

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Last summer, Will wanted to open a lemonade stand to buy a dirt bike.

“I said, ‘Son, we’re on 117 on a major freeway, having a lemonade stand won’t work,'” she said.

The conversation led to a better idea: a product stand. His father immediately went to work building a small stand. After meeting some farmers, Will started earning money over the summer to save for his bike. They sold out the first weekend and he wanted to keep going. With the initial success, a larger stand and an enclosed garage were built to keep cool in the summer and dry from the rain.

More customers or less farmland?

Within half a mile of the stand, developers plan to build more than 700 homes for the Falls Mist neighborhood project between NC 210 and US 117. For the stand, such developments could bring in more customers. At the same time, Christal is concerned about the future of agriculture in the region.

“It’s really sad to see all the developments to come, although I know the population will continue to grow and grow,” she said. “I see so many farmers coming out of it. That’s what we envision. What can we get into to keep the fresh produce coming in? What can we plant here to grow and sell?”

With development expected to double Rocky Point’s population, it wouldn’t be surprising for a chain of stores to consider the area.

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“When you go to the grocery store and bring your produce there for whatever you’re going to cook, it’s not always 100% fresh,” she said. “Anything we were able to sell, I get it directly from the farmer, the same morning, picked fresh. You can’t do that in a grocery store.”

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The Petersons learn about products on the roadside and strive to improve the business.

“We’re still figuring things out,” Peterson said. “We’ve done trial and error with what we can plant here, what will grow and what won’t.”

Guests spend time visiting Andrews Produce on Topsail Island

Continuing an island tradition

As growth continues on Topsail Island, Jeff and Vanessa Andrews have the chance to sell just outside their front yard.

“It’s a good ride,” Vanessa said with a chuckle. “I go down the stairs and here is my job.”

This short trip is something they have been doing for many years. Andrews Produce is just across the road from the ocean in North Topsail Beach, an Onslow County community that shares the island with Pender County’s Surf City and Topsail Beach.

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Through the produce stand, located at 8904 Second Ave., which is only open from mid-April through Labor Day, the couple is continuing a family tradition of farming. Picnic areas and umbrellas are set up so that their customers can see the waves.

“It’s not just people pulling up in their cars,” Jeff said. “They’re getting down in their golf carts. They’re riding their bikes towards us and walking towards us.”

Visitors and repeat customers come for produce such as sweet corn, vine-ripened tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches and more. They also have a good selection of cheeses and baked goods.

“It’s been a passion that we’ve always enjoyed doing, to provide these kinds of services, not only for the local community, but also for tourists in the area,” Jeff said.

As an outdoor fresh market, the Andrews isn’t intimidated by giant stores like Walmart and Publix.

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“If anything, I think it’s been a plus to see the area grow, and I think it helps businesses,” Jeff said. “We get a lot of local outpouring, and it’s become a really big tourist destination. Over the last five years we’ve seen our business grow a bit. We’ve been lucky enough to do what we do and we enjoy it. really Anytime you can provide people with food, you feel really good.

Jeff thinks the future is bright for Andrews Produce and emerging companies like Will-Will’s Market.

“I think they’re here to stay,” he said. “It’s kind of the nature of the beast, if you will. I think you’re going to find more and more people leaning towards that. It’s kind of like all your new bars and breweries that you see popping up. It’s just the thing. I don’t see that going away.”

Journalist Chase Jordan can be reached at cjjordan@gannett.com.