State and local officials have opened the doors to the new Leatherman Building at the Pee Dee State Farmers Market in Florence. The facility will showcase Certified South Carolina grown produce and products. Statewide, farmers markets are busier than ever.
In the heart of the 75 vendors at the Summerville Farmer’s Market lies the tent of the Gruber’s farm. Filled with strawberries, sweet corn, green beans and vine-riped tomatoes from the Gruber’s nearly 1,000 acre farm in St. George, this tent also holds an empty spot, a spot that was once filled with a man that helped start it all, Burnell Gruber.
“My father and I started at the Summerville Market with one little card table 18 years ago and a truck with some corn in it and, um, we have been here longer than any of these vendors,” says Kirlin.
Gruber’s daughter, Susan Kirlin, and his two sons, Stanley and Richard Gruber still work hard every Saturday selling their father’s favorite vegetable: sweet corn, among dozens of other fruits and vegetables. Kirlin is known as “the mouth” of the family. Jessica MaGuire knows the family just from buying her veggies from them for the past four years and she remembers Mr. Gruber sitting in his “spot.”
“Mr. Gruber was just always so pleasant and joked and gave you the banana to, ya know, take with you, just a real sweetheart. So, I just like to keep giving them my business,” says MaGuire.
It’s people like MaGuire that have made these farmer markets so popular. Recently, farmers and market vendors have seen an increase in demand for their fruits and vegetables. State Agricultural Commissioner Hugh Weathers says the number have doubled in the past four years. He explains his reasoning for this increase.
“I think it’s the interest in health, and i think it’s the interest in a little more support, where you can, for your local supplier, be it a hardware store or a farmer,” says Weathers.
Some may say healthier eating, some the economy, and even some say Mr. Gruber… but Kirlin knows as more people come and the demand rises, the work gets harder without her father.
“Ya know, it’s very tough to get the labor to help with all of it, since he passed away in December we won’t be able to do as many,” says Kirlin.
She knows if her father were still here he would still be shucking corn in his little chair by the table, making people, like MaGuire, laugh. And Kirlin says if he were alive today:
“He’d be very proud that we’re here, we just kinda need to do this, we’re all got it in our blood and we need to keep it going so that’s why we’re here,” says Kirlin.
So, as her father’s legacy lives on and more people come by, the farm off Highway 15 in St. George still holds the work of one man that helped grow the booming industry.