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Meurer produce stand still growing strong

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By Rachel Christian

The roadside produce stand is an Indiana symbol that summer has officially arrived. In Mount Vernon, Dave Meurer’s farmers’ stand has served as a harbinger of the warm season for more than 30 years.

From June until about Labor Day, Meurer – a former Mount Vernon Junior High School math teacher – sells locally grown fruits and vegetables from his canvas-covered hut. His reputation has grown so much over the years that Meurer’s steady stream of customers now includes visitors who travel as far as 45 minutes to buy his wares.

“I have been all over this town,” Meurer said one hot July day, referring to the various locations his stand has stood over the years. “People know that I offer a good product and I treat them well, so they come look for me each year.”

The fruits of his labor

­Operating the stand is hard work that begins for him each morning at 4:30 a.m. and doesn’t end until 7 p.m. that night. He receives a helping hand from a few loyal assistants, including Steve Mitchell, a former junior high colleague and retired teacher. Still, the labor and time involved in running the produce stand is one reason why Meurer thinks there have been fewer roadside stands in recent years.  

“It’s just plain hard work,” he said, wiping the back of his hand across his forehead after unloading a fresh crate of melons. “I think a lot of farmers don’t want to go through all the hassle as much anymore.”

Meurer attributes his work ethic and his love of farming to his father and grandfather. Meurer grew up in Davies County, and when he turned 18 years old, his grandfather gave him ten acres of dirt soil farmland. The recent high school graduate was used to farm labor thanks to his dad, who worked Meurer and his brother regularly in the fields during the summer.

With ten acres to call his own, Meurer decided to plant watermelons on his new land. He tended to and harvested the crop when he was home during the summers, and the money he made from selling the fruit paid for his schooling at Purdue University.

Meurer and his wife, Lisa, came to settle in Mount Vernon after he was hired as a seventh grade math teacher. Meurer held the position for over 20 years, and the couple raised their family in the Posey County town.

They also bought additional land to grow all the fruits and vegetables offered at Meurer’s produce stand, which opened in 1986.

Some changes over the years

The Meurers built a log cabin in Corydon, Kentucky (about 15 minutes outside of Henderson), and moved into the house a few years ago. After he finishes working the Mount Vernon stand in the afternoon, Meurer travels back to Corydon, where Lisa operates her own produce stand. The couple picks and gathers the crops for over two hours in the evening before finally calling it a day.

Meurer used to grow all the foodstuffs offered at his stand, but in recent years, he’s started purchasing some items from regional farmers he trusts. Each morning, he makes an hour and a half trek from Corydon to Vincennes, where he purchases sweet corn and green beans. He then heads to Poseyville for melons, and finally, Farview Orchard for peaches. Everything else comes from Meurer’s own farm.

Booming business

According to Meurer, business at the stand is doing better than ever this year. Each day, customers of all ages, shapes and sizes pull into the vacant parking lot in front of the produce stand on Third Street.

Meurer estimates that between 150 and 200 people visit his stand each day.

The most popular item for sale by far is sweet corn, which he sells about 1,200 ears of each week during peak times. Other popular items include watermelons, tomatoes and cantaloupe.

Meurer doesn’t weigh his produce out; instead, he offers it by the box, the crate or the handful (for the melons, a flat price is charged regardless of weight.) 

On certain days, such as last Friday, Meurer will even offer some overstocked pieces of produce for free to paying customers. The stand owner said it’s important to him to provide the freshest produce possible.

“I just picked about 100 cucumbers last night, and these ones here are a day old,” Meurer said. “When stuff like that happens, I’ll put it on deep discount or just give it away.”

The personal touch

Meurer now teaches in Henderson, but the educator said he returns to Mount Vernon each summer because of the connections he’s formed with its residents.

“They’re loyal customers, but many of them are also friends,” he said. “I try to take care of them, and in turn they take care of me.”

Patrons tend to greet Meurer by name as they approach, and for some, Meurer’s hand even hovers over the items he knows they will ask for.

After a windstorm last week, one of Meurer’s assistants alerted him that the canvas roof of the produce stand had been torn off. Meurer expected to arrive to a disassembled hut, but instead found that his assistant - along with the help of three passersby – had already reassembled it.

A couple even stuck around to buy some fruit afterwards.

One of those residents was Laura May, who said she has visited the produce stand for several years. She was back that afternoon to pick up some veggies for dinner.

“I helped out because I love this place, and just figured it was the right thing to do. Plus,” May added with a laugh, “I wanted to make sure it was still standing when I came back later today.”

Meurer said patrons like May, along with the hundreds of others who stop by each season, are one of the reasons why he plans to continue running the stand as long as possible.

“I’m lucky to have the customers I do,” he said. “They keep coming back for me each year, and in some ways, I keep coming back for them.”