To those traveling east on County Line Road or south on US19, Jim Cole’s produce stands are a familiar sight with their bright red and green tents. Now, the Cole’s have opened a new stand located at the junction of Twin Dolphin Drive and Sunshine Grove Road just off Cortez Boulevard.
Cole’s Farm Markets have been in Hernando and Pasco counties selling fresh fruit and vegetables for more than 11 years and have become an important part of local communities.
Cole has been in the business of selling produce all his life.
“My father had produce markets and so did my grandfather before him,” said Cole. “We were the Cole’s Tomato Produce Company in Akron, Ohio and all we did were tomatoes,” he said.
Cole’s Farm Markets are packed with fresh peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches, cantaloupes, watermelons and more.
A true family business, the three stands are managed by himself, his wife, Kim, and daughter Kaite Hughes.
“Kim and I were blessed to have our daughter move down from Ohio to be with us so we could expand to three locations,” said Cole. “She’s our best asset and is helping promote our online presence too.”
With loyal customers in both counties, Cole and his family are known not just for their tomatoes, but also their sweet onions, squash and more.
Cole’s average day begins at 3 a.m. with an early start to drive to Plant City where he searches for his produce. When he returns to Hernando County, he then restocks his stands and doesn’t return home until about 8:30 pm. at night.
"It's quite hard work and physical. We’re carrying watermelons, cantaloupes and potatoes around in crates," he says.
Cole explained that finding the very best fresh fruit and vegetables matters to him and his customers.
“The produce I buy can’t get much fresher, often picked within hours of being in Plant City,” he said. “I know who has grown the produce you are buying and I know how far it has travelled.”
And, according to Cole, the fruit produce at the local market tastes better than the supermarket equivalent, and is sold at a competitive price.
“Often with the large supermarket stores, produce travels from far away across the country to get to your table,” says Cole.
“With my produce, you know, it’s not been for days in a truck, hasn't been refrigerated overnight and then put on another truck to drive for days get to those supermarket shelves,” he said. “The longer it travels, the more it affects its freshness.”
Cole maintains the short distance his products travel also cuts costs as well as protecting taste and quality.
“Customer Rita Siegel says, “I always drop in at Jim’s stand because the freshness of his fruit and veggies is so much better than at some supermarket stores. The taste is just so much better too.”
Another customer chimed in to say “Jim’s open all year round too and I like to shop here so I can support the smaller tradespeople.”
Kim Cole, who managed the Hudson fruit and vegetable stand, said before her husband opened the new location on State Road 50, customers from Brookridge used to drive to County Line Road or Hudson to shop.
“But a lot of my customers just come by to say hello to my dog, Annie,” she said.
Annie is a snow-white Great Pyrenees dog and very popular with the customers.
“We have mascots at every stand,” said Kim. “Josie, a Black Labrador, is the oldest and Nora is our newest rescue. They’re such good companions and keep us from talking to ourselves.”
Joan Lind, 79, who lives in close-by East Linden Estates, off County Line Road, says she always buys in bulk when produce is in season.
“I like to buy things like green beans and tomatoes when they’re in season and much, much cheaper,” she said. “Then I spend the day at Little Rock Cannery where I can pressure can up to 96 jars at one time.”
Lind added that she doesn’t know why more people don’t can fruit, vegetables and seafood.
“The cannery has got all the equipment you need and people to help you if you’re new at canning,” she said. “It’s a really good way to save money and much healthier.”
With more and more people eating healthy, fresh sustainable produce grown locally and reasonably priced, fruit and vegetable stands are becoming more and more popular.
"Coming to our stand is a whole different experience than going to the supermarket and just walking through aisles of produce," says Cole. “We chat to our customers and we can tell them what they want to know about the produce. And we don’t have those aggravating little sticky labels on each piece of fruit.”
The CDC recommends at least two and a half cups of vegetables and a cup and a half of fruit a day to reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke and some cancers. Eating fruits and vegetables also helps manage body weight.
So get along to your local fruit and veggie stand.
Other produce items found at Cole’s Farm Markets are organically grown produce, eggs and local honey.
IF YOU GO
Cole's Farm Markets can be found at:
15031 US 19
Tues & Thurs 11-5:30
Wed & Fri 10-5:30
Sat 10 until ?
18944 County Line Road
Sat 10 until ?
13454 Twin Dolpin Drive
Tues & Thurs 12:30-6
Wed & Fri 10:15-6
Sat 10 until ?
Open year round
Faebook: @ ColesFarmMarket