By Amy Eddings
You’d never know, by the look of the packed parking lot at Hurley Farms on a sunny summer weekend, that co-owner LeaDel Hurley never wanted to get into the produce business.
This 57-year-old farmer’s daughter grew up working for her parents’ seasonal farm stand, Wickherham Produce, on this very same site on state Route 117, just a few miles south of Indian Lake.
Wayne and June Wickerham started it in 1968, when LeaDel was about 10 years old. When her parents called it quits and retired from the business in 1996, that, she thought, was that. An end of an era for the family and community.
And then her youngest son, Dan, who was 17 or 18 at the time, got it into his head that he could make some money selling sweet corn from the back of a pickup truck at the gas station in Huntsville.
“So, everybody asked him if we were going to do it again next year and Dan said, ‘Well, yeah, but if we’re gonna sell it, why don’t we just sell it out there at the market the way we used to?’” said LeaDel. “And I thought, oh no, no. I said, ‘I don’t want to own a farmer’s market. I don’t want anything to do with that.’”
Two years later, the Hurleys opened Hurley Farms, with husband Russ and Dan stocking the stand with sweet corn and tomatoes from the family’s 300-acre farm and LeaDel running the retail side of things.
Fast forward another 18 years, and Russ, LeaDel, Dan and his wife, Kristin, now sell sweet corn, tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, cabbages and cucumbers. They also sell peaches from Georgia and apples from Ohio orchards.
They’ve added a deli — LeaDel’s idea — offering several types of hoagies, hot and cold. There are jams and jellies, pickles, Amish egg noodles, and homemade goodies like candied pecans, chocolate-dipped pretzels and granola bars. And there’s an assortment of pies, including an old-fashioned sugar cream baked by LeaDel’s Amish neighbor.
Dan is lucky. It’s rare for a teenager to tell his mom and dad what to do, and rarer still to have them take his advice. It’s supposed to be the other way around.
“I guess I just didn’t wanna work for anybody else,” said Dan, now 34. “I’d rather be outside working than being stuck inside a factory.”
On this sunny but cold late winter day, he’s inside, leaning against one of the two long checkout counters that flank the cash register.
“We call this ‘The Pit,’” said LeaDel. The nickname hints at how the checkout area must feel to LeaDel, Kristin and the staff on a July weekend, when the sweet corn and the Indian Lake vacationers are coming on.
The Pit is front and center at a retail store that the Hurleys built three years ago on the site of the old barn where they used to sell their produce. The shop has allowed them to switch from a seasonal operation to a year-round one. LeaDel said the slower pace of the off-season gives her the chance to get to know customers like longtime Indian Lake resident Jack Hart, 70.
“Do you want to know the truth?” he said, with a mischievous look in his eye. “The service has gotten terrible and the product isn’t all that good.”
“You’d better start sleeping with one eye open, buddy,” said LeaDel with a laugh.
“And they never have what you want,” said Hart, who had two bags of potato chips in one hand and a box of sugar cookies in the other. “I want peanut butter cookies, but I guess I can choke these down.”
“And we never have free stuff,” chimed in LeaDel. “I always tell him the free stuff was the day before he was here.”
There is free stuff at Hurley Farms. The family has added special events like Pi Day on March 12, during which they offer pie samplings and a drawing for free pie for a year. There’s a deli cheese tasting on April 16, a free lunch on Customer Appreciation Day on Aug. 6 and free cookie decorating on Dec. 10. New this season is a Made in Ohio Day on July 30, with more than 20 vendors selling Ohio-made and Ohio-themed products.
Hart paid for his chips and cookies.
“I gotta keep working to pay for this stuff,” he quipped.
Dan looked around the store, at the deli, the display shelves and refrigerated cases, at what has grown from his good idea, a good idea that has run in this family for three generations and that won over a reluctant farm stand farmer’s daughter.
“I never thought it would be what it is now,” he said.
As for LeaDel, his mom, her “never thoughts” go back farther than that. She never thought it would even be.
“Did I ever think I wanted to work in a business with my husband?” she said, not needing to provide the answer. She paused. “Would I change it now? No.”
THE HURLEY HOAGIE
1/4 pound ham, sliced medium thickness at the deli counter
1/4 pound turkey, sliced medium thickness at the deli counter
1/4 pound salami, sliced medium thickness at the deli counter
1/4 pound provolone cheese, sliced medium thickness at the deli counter
One 8-inch white or whole-wheat hoagie
4 or 5 banana peppers, diced
3 slices tomato
1 cup iceberg lettuce, shredded or chopped into thin strips
2 tablespoons Italian salad dressing
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Slice hoagie, if it isn’t sliced already, and open it up. Place the bun directly on the wire rack of the oven. This allows the hot air of the oven to circulate and toast both sides of the bun. Toast the bun in the hot oven for 2 to 4 minutes until its white interior is just starting to brown, watching carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn. Remove from the oven and place on a baking sheet.
To assemble the sandwich, place 2 slices of ham, 2 slices of turkey and 6 slices of salami on the sandwich. Top with 3-4 slices of provolone cheese.
Return the sandwich, open-face, to the oven and bake it 7-10 minutes, watching carefully to make sure the provolone cheese doesn’t begin to burn. Remove from the oven when cheese begins to bubble and meat is heated through.
Sprinkle the banana peppers over the cheese and meat. Pile on the tomato slices and a generous handful of lettuce. Drizzle the Italian salad dressing over the lettuce and tomato. Add salt and pepper to your liking.
Close the sandwich and enjoy.