by Donna Byrd
When I was growing up, our family went to the beach every summer for a glorious week in July. Now, when I say family, I really mean the WHOLE family! Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins…lots of cousins. We all rented condos close together and made the vacation like a huge, week long, family reunion.
Family Reunions and Fresh Produce
What’s a reunion without good food? Every day, we ate the favorite meals of all the grown-ups, and that meant we had farm fresh vegetables!
For some reason, our parents had to have huge, vine ripe tomatoes, silver queen corn right out of the field, crisp cucumbers, all kinds of colored peppers, snappy, string beans, sunny, yellow squash, (still warm from the sun,) tender okra and the most prized vegetable of all: shelled butter beans! The countertops in our kitchens groaned under the weight of these garden treasures. Our family vacations taught us, kids, how to love a BLT, how to cherish the simplicity of a tomato sandwich, eat corn on the cob snaggled toothed or with braces and to ask the question, born out of a new found experience, “Can we just have a vegetable supper?”
I’m happy to report to you all that the “gotta have those fresh, seasonal vegetables” tradition still continues not just for my family, but many other beach-bound vacationers who are determined to eat the best foods while they are relaxing by the seashore! They come to us and trust that there is a humble vegetable stand close by where they can stock up on good eats, where they can make “vegetable runs” to create the meals and sandwiches of their dreams and may I just say, find the most delectable peaches to churn into homemade ice cream or buttery, crisp cobblers.
They know that every year that vegetable stand is going to be in the same place, operated by the same family and that that family will ensure that they have the best locally grown vegetables around. Here on Topsail Island, they go to Andrews’ Produce.
Fresh Produce on Topsail Island
I have passed by this roadside farmer’s market for years. Every time I do, there are happy people around the tables speaking vegetable and fruit language. For just a few minutes, everybody there is your best friend. Secret family recipes are shared while smelling ripe cantaloupes and weighing huge tomatoes. The day I was there, Vanessa Andrews presided over the tables, answering questions about her family’s history and where all her farm fresh vegetables came from.
She says that Andrews’ Produce has been in business for forty-one years. She and her husband Jeff live on the beach road, between North Topsail Beach and Surf City. The canopies that cover their goodies and block the hot summer sun are spread out in front of their house, which was originally built by Jeff’s father as a vacation house in the 1970’s. Jeff’s parents farmed on acreage in Duplin County and networked with other local farmers to bring the best vegetables to their produce stand. Now, Jeff and Vanessa run the stand and boy, does it keep them busy from May until September!
As I spoke with Vanessa, she stopped our conversation many times to wait on customers. She loves to talk about her products and it’s obvious that she knows her “stuff.” She pointed to her canned goods at the end of the table. There were canned beets, chow-chow, pepper vinegar, apple butter, strawberry, blueberry and black raspberry jams and jellies that she cans right there at her home. I heard her tell someone that it takes five hours of hand chopping fresh vegetables to make the chow-chow. Five hours! Vanessa cans about 50 pounds of pickled beets and 350 pounds of tomatoes a week to keep up with her customer demands. Can you imagine?
She pointed to some local honey and explained to me that the delicacy in those jars was from Shaken Creek Farms near Burgaw and Maple Hill. She said they have to travel about six miles down a dirt road just to get to the beehives. The beautiful tomatoes came from St. John’s Island in South Carolina. When they know Jeff is coming to pick them up, they pull the prettiest tomatoes they have off the vines just for him. They know he’s picky about his tomatoes!
Jeff networks with farmers he grew up with as a boy. He’s still doing business with the sons of the farmers his dad worked with. As the produce comes in, he follows the growing season, chasing the fruits and vegetables as they come into their “peak best.” From the south to the north, east to west, Jeff gathers as the summer progresses, keeping his produce fresh and available for those of us on the island.
I couldn’t believe that Vanessa also made homemade ice cream and sorbets to sell. She let me taste a few flavors and I have to tell you, you must try some if you stop by! She said that every day she makes ice cream to keep her customers happy. Vacationers are relentless with their “Me want ice cream” mentality!
Before I left, Vanessa had something special to show me. She went into the house and brought out a quilt that a local resident had sewn for them. It was beautiful and hand stitched with love. The blocks were made of varied fabrics with fruit and vegetable themes. It commemorated the Andrews’ family’s business and their service to the community of North Topsail Island.
Vanessa told me that one day an obviously very sick lady named Penny, came to their vegetable stand. She was craving watermelon. Mr. Andrews chose a melon for her and offered to take it to her car. She said she needed to pay for it first, but he insisted, “No. Your watermelon comes today as complements of Andrews’ Produce.” He walked her to her car and placed the desired treasure (because we all know that when you’re craving a watermelon, nothing else will do,) into her car. She passed away not long after that.
Another customer happened to be observing this and took note of his kind deed. A few months later, she showed up at the Andrews’ with this lovely quilt, a gift of thanks and appreciation. “You think you just run a vegetable stand, but you are more than that to this community! Your kindness to the people here makes you a vital part of this community!” Sometimes a gift such as this speaks more gratitude than words could ever say!
As I left, Vanessa was serving her customers with a smile, her soft southern accent tickling the ears of her customers from the north. No wonder the business is a beach tradition for so many. It serves up the best of the south with grace and excellence!
Andrews’ Produce is located at:
Second Ave and Island Drive, North Topsail Beach, NC
Open every day from May through September
9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Bring cash! No credit cards accepted! Vanessa told me since they pay their farmers in cash, their customers have to pay in cash too! The old school way!
Like their Facebook page and see what specials Vanessa has daily.