Although it was the second day of the season, Carey Nalls sat on the empty table at Nalls Produce on Beulah Road and whittled a piece of wood. Due to the harsh winter, Nalls opened later than usual, but there will still be plenty of time for crates of tomatoes, pachysandra and top soil.
"We don't do any produce for three weeks or so," Nalls said, looking at the season ahead. He's been selling produce at this location along Beulah Road since 1961, so he knows the routine.
"It's seven days a week from now to Christmas," he said.
Dean Musser lives across Beulah from the store. He's been working around the produce market for 3 1/2 years.
"It's been too cold, too much snow to do anything. You don't start seeing customers until they start seeing color out front," Musser said.
A car pulled up in the gravel parking lot. The driver knew Nalls from years past and needed some photina, a shrub.
"We got one area, they can see right into the swimming pool," the driver said.
"It will be in next week," Nalls said.
Nalls’ is one of the few outdoor produce markets left in the area. Cox's in Vienna, Norman's in Reston and Heatherhill Gardens on Ox Road in Fairfax Station are the others in the area, Nalls noted with a smile. The depletion in the numbers of markets and the increased population just mean more business for him.
"There's not too many left, the land's too valuable, no one can afford it," he said.
Alexandria resident Linda Styer likes the outdoor market and the fresh flowers. She was in buying a "flat" of petunias, which are early spring flowers.
"Lots of plants and flowers. It seems more hometown rather than big business. Anytime you see the daisy's out, it must be spring," she said.
There were six generations of Nalls-Rogers family in the vegetable business in the area since 1820. Some relatives were in the Civil War, and Carey Nalls’ grandfather was born in 1895, in an area where the present Franconia Road hits Telegraph Road he called Happy Valley.
"They were onion growers. There was land scattered all around," Nalls pointed to a forested area across Beulah, "I used to farm that myself."
Nalls Produce is on 5.5 acres and adequate for now, but he fears when he's done with the produce stand, his children may not opt for this line of work.
This time of year, Nalls imports the early produce from Florida, Oregon and California. Later in the season, homegrown produce starts filling his shelves.
FAIRFAX COUNTY farmers markets kick off their season on May 6, adding some competition in the seasonal produce industry. They specialize in strictly homegrown or baked goods and had to wait for early May to start operations so produce could grow, particularly strawberries. Some of their vendors have greenhouses, but none import produce.
"It's early in May so we can catch the strawberries," said Margie Joyce, the county’s farmers market coordinator
There are 10 farmers markets around the county, open at various times every day but Sunday and Monday. The county operation has been in existence for about 20 years, according to Joyce. Most of them are in parks, and those in other locations pay no rent, so they are operated at a minimal cost to the county.
"We charge the vendor a fee for the season. We pay no rent anywhere," Joyce said.
Kingstowne Farmers Market is the newcomer on the scene, setting up camp between the Kingstowne Town Center and the Kingstowne Plaza. The unique thing about the Kingstowne schedule is that it will be open on Friday night only, from 4-7, before a concert series planned by Supervisor Dana Kauffman's (D-Lee) office.
"We're going to try something a little different there," she said.
According to Joyce, the builders had a farmers market in mind when planning the town center. They have enough vendors interested in that particular location. It is about two miles from Nalls’ market, but Joyce noted they haven't heard any complaints from competing businesses.