"We like to say that it's ‘love and devotion,' but it really is ‘Leona and David,'" says Leona Gerrald.
To people who have shopped at L&D Produce at 231 E. Main St. for years and know the owners, Leona and husband David, it's pretty obvious what L&D stands for. So the explanation is mainly for new customers. Many are now discovering L&D's second location, on U.S. Highway 80 East across from Lowe's.
"You really have to love this business and be devoted to it to be successful," David Gerrald said, "and then it's still real hard at times because you're looking for high quality produce for your customers. The hours can start at 1 and 2 o'clock in the morning and can go as late as 10 and 11 o'clock at night, depending on where we're having to transport the produce in from, where we're having to pick it up."
So the work is not limited to the hours, six days a week, when the two markets are open. The Gerralds keep their stores closed Sundays for worship, but even then, they check to make sure the coolers are working properly so that all those perishable products stay fresh and healthy for their customers. That's the devotion part.
The love story involves the three of them: Leona, David and the produce business. They started selling vegetables grown on his father's farm from the back of David's pickup while they were dating. The company, founded the year after they married, is now 25. Oct. 24 will be the Gerralds' 26th wedding anniversary, and they plan to spend it at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, selling cotton candy, boiled peanuts and candy apples.
Nowadays the Gerralds keep chickens and sell the eggs. Everything else they buy from other people. Local produce is seasonal, and when out of season here — or for things which are never grown locally — they buy farther afield.
"We pride ourselves in the fact that we buy as much local stuff from the local farmers as we can, first, before we fill in outside the area," he said.
Occupying a building that's open on the sides and originated in the 1930s as a stable, the East Main market is nevertheless more of a grocery store than a vegetable stand.
Last week, the bins and coolers held fresh peanuts grown locally by Lloyd Strickland; a variety of potatoes; local honey from B&G Honey Farms; Vidalia onions; milk from Southern Swiss Dairy near Waynesboro; Tennessee tomatoes, since the local crop was not good this year; Lannie Lee's syrup; North Carolina apples; peppers ancho, bell and cayenne; snap beans; winter and summer squash and more.
The market's fenced exterior is currently camouflaged by pumpkins, shocks of corn stalks, bales of hay, potted mums in fall colors and bags of deer corn. One block from Highway 80 on the edge of downtown, the East Main store has a loyal following.
"The people in Statesboro have been extremely good and supportive to us over the years," David said. "We value our customers very much."
But people who drive into town from other counties often don't see L&D, he said. So five months ago, the Gerralds launched an experiment, with a six-month lease for the site across from Lowe's and a temporary city permit.
Dana Collins, who previously ran a business of her own called Market Works, now works for the Gerralds as manager of the Highway 80 store. It features a trailer-like, air-conditioned building, lined with neat bins displaying smaller quantities of the same produce as the old location. The new place has bigger lots of a few things, such as cotton candy because the Highway 80 traffic includes more children. Items outside will change with the seasons: pumpkins and sugar cane now; Christmas trees later.
The experiment has been a success. Residents of the nearby Bel Air neighborhood have been among those warmly welcoming a fresh produce market, David said.
Now he is taking steps to make the temporary location permanent. This requires restrooms, wheelchair accessibility and a permanent city license. He hopes to have the arrangements complete in about two months.
The Gerralds also will continue their traditions at the East Main location. Several times each year, they work with their friends John and Cora Francis to host fundraising events for people suffering from serious illnesses or other misfortunes.
Every Thursday, these couples also provide a free lunch at L&D Produce on East Main for people who are homeless or simply hungry. There's no income maximum, but donations are appreciated. For the cooler months, the meal consists of homemade soup, a sandwich and a piece of fruit.
"God gives to us and we believe in giving back," Leona says.