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Utah's 'Fruit Highway' a summertime destination

Dante Winward puts peaches out for local and out-of-town customers to buy at Grammy's Fruit & Produce along Highway 89 in Willard, Utah.
Dante Winward puts peaches out for local and out-of-town customers to buy at Grammy's Fruit & Produce along Highway 89 in Willard, Utah.
Associated Press

LOGAN — It was nearly 80 years ago that schoolteacher George Nielson opened his first fruit stand. It was the 1930s, and money was tough to come by for nearly everybody.

"George A.," as he's known locally, built up his stand into something formidable over the years. It was one of the first fruit and produce stands to set up shop along the famous Fruit Highway in Box Elder County, and it's still running today — along with about a dozen other stands in the area.

From Brigham City to just past Willard, U.S. Highway 89 is home to enough fruit and produce stands to feed a small army. Locals make it a habit to stop by for fresh fruit or vegetables, and out-of-towners plan trips around driving down the highway.

George A.'s stand is now run by Janna and David Tyler of Perry. Janna's father, Ralph Nielson, operated Nielson's Fruit for several years before he died earlier this year.

"My dad ran this as a service, not as a business," Janna Tyler said in between helping customers. "It's a great family legacy."

Many of the fruit stands along the highway have suffered bad weather conditions. A surprise bad frost after last year's Thanksgiving killed trees, while seemingly unending rain and cold temperatures pushed the growing season back this year.

While it hurt the stands financially, it hasn't kept customers away this summer.

Randy Lemon, who runs the farm behind Grammy's Fruit and Produce near Willard, said the conditions put the stand behind about two weeks. Because of that, the industry only hit peak season in late August.

Grammy's, named for Randy's 85-year-old mother Helen Jane Lemon, is in its 23rd year.

It started in the 1940s for a time, but the Lemons shut it down to operate a dairy farm.

One day, things changed.

"Dad decided he'd had it milking the cows in the winter," Randy Lemon said.

So the fruit stand came back.

It's a full-time, year-round job for the Lemons. Randy and his brother, Doug, run the farm, while Kevin Lemon manages the stand during the summer. Other family members help out where needed. Grammy's will stay in business through October and operate as a self-serve, on-your-honor business through November. By January, the family is busy pruning trees. Within a few months, the earth needs to be worked, and planting season comes soon afterward.

Stands along the highway tend to open in mid- to late-June with cherries and peas in high demand. The business year culminates with squash and other fall favorites.

On a recent Friday, Cheri and Brent Woolstenhulme drove from Idaho Falls to Box Elder County.

"We had a free day," Cheri said after purchasing tomatoes and peaches from Tagge's Fruit and Produce in Perry. "So we just drove down to see what looks good."

But some, like Ben and Eve Richardson of Salt Lake City, travel to Box Elder County to get their fresh food.

Shopping at Paul's Patch Patch in Perry, the couple was picking out tomatoes, honeydew, peaches and a collection of other fruit items with their infant son, James.

Seeing fruit every summer after months of hard work is what keeps Randy Lemon of Grammy's Fruit & Produce going.

"When you finally see the produce," he said, "there's a lot of gratification."