Sales at farmers' market supplement retirement income
By ABIGAIL RICHARDSON
Arizona Daily Star
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Larry and Eunice Park have what he calls an incurable disease, one that causes them to get their hands dirty, plant seeds and share their yield with the community.
The couple started Larry's Veggies, an organic farm in Marana, two years ago to supplement their income as they approach retirement.
The freedom of being able to go out into nature and work out his frustrations has kept Larry returning to the agriculture lifestyle even after he tried to cure his compulsion.
"I have been in it all my life," he said. "I have gotten out of it three or four times. I've sold everything off and said I was never going to go back into it, but I always do. It's a disease."
This time around, they have found their niche selling greens at the St. Philip's Plaza Farmers' Market on Sundays. They also sell carrots, squash, cucumbers and other things.
Larry and Eunice, who are 58 and 57, respectively, take pride in the fact that they do not use herbicides or pesticides on their products.
"It is hard to find vegetables that taste like they're supposed to taste," Eunice said. "There is a definite difference between the taste of organic and not organic."
The garden beds use recycled material.
"There were people trying to get rid of their things and instead of going into a landfill they brought it over here and we were able to use the material," Eunice said.
Dee O'Neill, a customer of Larry's Veggies, has bought produce from Larry and Eunice every Sunday since they started selling at the market two years ago.
"I buy from them because I know it's grown locally," O'Neill said. "I know it's been grown right here without pesticides and junk. The quality is much better."
They pick the vegetables from 24 to 48 hours before taking it to the market.
In addition to the quality of the food, customers praised Larry and Eunice on their customer service.
"They are so personable," said Karen Wilkison, a Larry's Veggies customer. "They will e-mail you if they will be at the market or not. It is like a community of people who know them and work with them."
Larry and Eunice used to sell their produce at three markets, but now sell at only one because they have a hard time keeping up with the demand.
"We sell the majority in the first hour-and-a-half," Eunice said. "The last two-and-a-half hours is just getting to know people. We have a following. We have people e-mailing us asking to save them greens, and I will."
The couple has made friends with their customers as well as other vendors at the markets.
"The vibe at all of the farmers' markets is really good," Eunice said. "What is cool is you can say, 'You should try the garlic cheese over there with their spinach or their kale.' You kind of work and feed off of each other."
Before moving to Marana in 2001, Larry and Eunice owned a nursery in Douglas called Zamp Country Nursery where they grew tulips and trees, and veggies on the side.
"That's where my children grew up," Eunice said. "Our kids grew up picking vegetables, grew up working in the nursery and they also grew up building forts all over the place."
Although their children don't have careers in the agricultural field, they have been compelled to grow something, Eunice said. Her daughter had to have her flowers and strawberries, and her son planted chiles and tomatoes.
"The kids didn't get the disease as bad," Larry said. "They grow for themselves, not the market."
During the week Larry works in landscaping; Eunice worked for the county until recently.
In November, the couple lost a lot of their crops to harsh weather. They hope to be back at the Oro Valley Farmers' Market in the next month.
"We first started at Oro Valley with one little table and we would stress out if we didn't make $90," Eunice said. "Well, we are up to four tables now" at St. Philip's.
Larry's Veggies sells a $3 one-gallon bag and a $5 two-gallon bag that customers can fill with their choice of vegetables.
The couple plans to sell cut flowers this spring.
"We are constantly trying to find something new, something that customers want," Eunice said. "We are asking customers what they want to see and what they want us to grow. Dream-wise, we would like to can some of our things one day."