Entrepreneurs find niche at farmers markets
Farmers markets benefit our communities on so many levels.
They provide the opportunity to support local businesses, which keeps our money in our own communities. They enable us to cut down on the carbon footprint of our meals because the fruits and vegetables we buy do not travel as far to our tables.
Farmers markets also strengthen our communities by offering the chance to socialize with neighbors.
We are fortunate to have so many markets in the Richmond area, particularly the popular South of the James Farmers Market held on Saturdays in Forest Hill Park, and the newly expanded Carytown Market held on Sundays at the City Stadium.
Those markets, however, would not exist if it weren’t for the hard-working farmers and vendors who work tirelessly to grow, produce and create products we all love. Fifty Plus interviewed three vendors who have taken on post-retirement careers selling their products locally.
Village Garden RVA
David Hunsaker, 63, grew up in mountainous Coeburn, Va., and was raised by a coal-miner father and stay-at-home mother. Their family depended on their large garden for daily meals, so Hunsaker learned from an early age how to grow food.
Of course, it took the young Hunsaker some time to learn the ropes. “I stepped on more plants than I saved for a while,” he said. As he got older, though, Hunsaker developed a green thumb.
Fast forward a few decades. After a demanding career in the healthcare field — with stints as CEO — Hunsaker finally retired for good in 2010.
A year later, he started Village Garden with then-fiancée (now wife) Barbara Hollingsworth. Both share a love for gardening, and are passionate about fresh seasonal produce.
Located in Atlee, in the middle of Hanover County, Village Garden grows over 200 types of tomatoes, including heirloom and exotic tomatoes.
They also feature unique varieties of chili peppers, with over 100 types, including seed stock they have accumulated during their travels to exotic lands. In addition to their tomatoes and chilis, Village Garden grows and sells herbs and spices that they develop into unique blends.
Hunsaker adheres to organic and sustainable practices, using a geodesic, heated greenhouse and an unheated hoop house, as well as one of their 10 acres to grow the plants.
Village Garden sells its produce at local farmers markets, including South of the James Market and Carytown Market.
A large part of their business, however, comes from well-known chefs at local restaurants, including the Jefferson, Saison, Millie’s Diner and the Roosevelt, among others.
“We are known for our unique selection,” Hunsaker said. “We bring chefs a mixed, 10-pound flat with 25 to 35 types of slicer tomatoes.”
He also welcomes many chefs to his farm, where he spends time showing them the many varieties of tomatoes, chilis and herbs he grows.
“We grow about every herb you can think of,” said Hunsaker, “and we have an active herb and spice business with 45 different types of hot chilis.”
They also grow produce for their own consumption, and barter herbs and other produce for beer at several of the local breweries.
During the off-season, the Hunsakers take about six weeks to travel somewhere exotic.
“We have been to about 60 different countries,” Hunsaker said, including Indonesia, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Zanzibar and Iceland. But even on vacation they are thinking about the farm.
“If we can find some unusual vegetable, we ship it home and start it in the greenhouse,” Hunsaker said.
When they travel, the Hunsakers avoid tourist destinations; instead, they try to experience the place as the locals do, staying in hostels and backpacking during the day.
As food lovers, they also eat whatever the locals eat, no matter how unusual. “If it’s moving slowly, we eat it,” Hunsaker said.
While Hunsaker enjoyed achieving success in the healthcare field, he appreciates that running Village Garden enables him to work at his own pace and do what he wants to do.
At the same time, it challenges him and keeps him engaged. “I learn every day out here,” Hunsaker said. “It is always a process of adapting to situations.”
His long days of farming also leave him more physically exhausted than he was in his former career.
“I’m working harder than I have in my entire life,” said Hunsaker. “But it’s very rewarding — not just to make things grow, but to also work with many of the finest chefs in town.”
Most importantly, Hunsaker is passionate about teaching people where their food comes from, the importance of preserving diversity in the food system, and the benefits of “eating local.”
Lynda Gilbertson and Marcia Adkins
Do the Jerk-ey, LLC
Lynda Gilbertson, 56, and Marcia Adkins, 59, both love Westerns. Watching all those movie cowboys eat jerky made them curious: does the disappointing jerky you buy at the grocery store taste like the jerky the real cowboys ate?
Eleven years ago, they decided to buy a dehydrator and find out for themselves. They began experimenting with making jerky on their own. Today, they sell 1,400 lbs. of it a year.
When making jerky, Gilbertson said they use only the leanest cuts of meat and the fewest preservatives possible. Their attention to quality seems to have paid off.
“Our homemade jerky tastes nothing like the store stuff,” Gilbertson said. “When our friends and neighbors tried it, they loved it and suggested we sell our own.”
After hearing that many times, Gilbertson and Adkins decided that they did indeed want to sell their jerky. “We got in on the ground floor with the South of the James Market, and then we also started selling at Carytown Market,” Gilbertson said.
They also sell their jerky, as well as homemade trail mix and other high-protein snacks, at many local festivals, including the Strawberry Festival in Ashland and the Hanover Tomato Festival.
Four years ago, they were awarded the Virginia Finest designation, which recognizes top-quality Virginia specialty food and beverage products.
Both Gilbertson and Adkins are retired, so making and selling their jerky has provided a fun, profitable post-retirement endeavor. It is a time-consuming process given the 3,000 lbs. of meat they process each year. The whole process from raw meat to packaged jerky takes about a week.
“Making jerky is sorta like watching paint dry,” said Gilbertson. “You do a lot, and then you wait.”
At first, Gilbertson and Adkins season the meat and let it sit overnight. They then slice it and marinate in for a couple of days, which sometimes keeps them up until the wee hours of the morning. After that, they put the meat in a dehydrator for about 24 hours.
Gilbertson said Do the Jerk-ey has grown more than they ever imagined. “That’s where the fun comes in,” she said. “You have the work of making the jerky, and the fun of interacting with people at the markets and fairs.”
Handmade by Linda
Nearly 20 years ago, Linda Williams, 60, was paying for something at Michael’s craft store when she saw beads by the register.
“I really like the way colors come together,” she said, “so I started wondering what I could do with [beads].”
After wandering the bead aisle, she decided to start making Christmas ornaments, which she enjoyed doing. But when one of her friends asked why she wasn’t making jewelry, she decided to give that a try.
Jewelry-making soon became a passion, and Williams “graduated from Michaels to Bangles and Beads” — a Richmond store that carries one of the largest collections of beads and jewelry supplies in the United States.
She started using nicer materials, including beads, sterling silver and semi-precious stones. And in 2004, she began selling her items at the 17th Street Market.
Williams then connected with Karen Grisevich, who started South of the James Market. During that market’s second season, Williams began selling her jewelry there.
Now, she not only sells at the market, she also works for Grisevich as administrative assistant and liaison with the Market’s vendors.
Williams enjoys working with the South of the James Market, but making jewelry, ornaments and suncatchers is her passion. She takes pride in creating unique, beautiful and well-constructed pieces.
“Making jewelry keeps me sane and makes me happy,” Williams said. “You have to concentrate and really think about what you’re doing.”
Williams, who also cares for her mother full-time, finds inspiration everywhere. She collects pictures and ideas, and sometimes she waits until the right stone comes along to execute the perfect idea.
“One of my favorite necklaces was inspired by wild violets growing in the yard,” she said.
Williams finds it fulfilling to create objects that others want to buy. “One of my friends from England takes my suncatchers back home to his friends and family whenever he visits,” Williams said.
She thoroughly enjoys the opportunity to create jewelry for weddings, and she delights in selling to her repeat customers at the market.
“Because I work for myself,” Williams said, “I enjoy being able to give a piece away if a child comes to the market and really admires it.”