the way we think about veggies
BY ALEX GRANADOS
There are more ways
than one to explain the produce garden grown
just outside the store's front door. We love
this article that was published in the North
Raleigh News August 20, 2011.
I never thought of myself
as a farmer. Overalls don't look good on me,
and straw hats make me itch.
I certainly never gave much
thought to growing my own food. That all changed
when I got involved in a community garden
in downtown Raleigh. I began growing cucumbers,
tomatoes, lettuce and more. I began to eat
of my own bounty. And it was easy. My garden
was just a plot about the size of a picnic
table top. So why do people still rely on
the grocery store for vegetables when a small
piece of land can yield so much? Tom Largen,
owner of the Red Hill General Store at Falls
River Town Center in North Raleigh, wonders
"In a backyard in Bedford,
you could grow enough to preserve your own
food," Largen said. "You could grow
enough to probably live all summer on just
veggies and things like that."
And he's not just philosophizing. He backs
it up with action, namely, a vegetable garden
in front of his store. The garden is small:
Where other stores might have flowers or bushes,
he has tomatoes, giant cucumbers, peppers
and more. Red Hill General Store sells just
about any item you can imagine: clothes, ice
cream churners, canning jars, lawn equipment,
cow bells and, of course, fresh produce. With
the garden, customers can now go outside and
pick their own vegetables. But this isn't
just about making a sale for Largen, it's
about teaching customers a different way of
"They're going to go
to Food Lion, which is OK," he said.
"But during the summer it's sort of silly.
You can have all the tomatoes you want."
When I met Largen, I got
a sense of a guy who is not just operating
a business, but spreading a lifestyle - a
lifestyle you might have seen back in the
days when general stores were more prevalent.
Red Hill grew out of nostalgia for those very
stores. Largen grew up in Hillsville, Va.,
a small town that has had a succession of
general stores over the years. Largen was
always interested in those little mom-and-pop
shops, and he decided to start an Internet
business based on the general store model.
That was in 1998. Eleven years later, he branched
out into brick and mortar in his hometown
of Hillsville. In March of this year, he expanded
to Raleigh, where he lives part time. I asked
Largen what captivated him so much about general
"It's not just a person
working there," he said. "This person
works there, has an interest, believes in
the product... that's something we're missing
And he and store manager
Suzie Marquardt are developing a rapport with
local residents that you usually see only
in a small-town business.
"When people walk in
the door, instead of heading right to the
product, they open the door and say, 'Hey
Suzie, Hey Tom,'" Largen said.
The customers coming in
Sunday when I visited were motivated by curiosity,
nostalgia and need. Andrew Helms was there
with his wife, Diane, who was hoping the store
would have dollhouse furniture. No such luck,
but a general store is definitely the kind
of place you would go for a hard-to-find item
"These types of stores
are great...because they have a whole lot
of things you can't get in the big places,"
I found 81-year-old Al Thomas
standing around an old-fashioned ice cream
churner with his wife and friends. Most people
today just buy ice cream at the grocery store,
but Thomas said he recalls when he used to
churn it himself. Red Hill General Store is
bringing a little bit of the past into the
present, it seems. And in the process, it's
becoming a role model. Neighboring Nantucket
Grill is growing its own vegetable garden.
Largen even gave them some plants to help
them get started. Through his store, Largen
wants people to become aware of all their
options. And get a little perspective.
"My God, we're sitting
here talking about oil and all the problems
we have with energy, and we're paying somebody
to grow produce in Chile and send it to us,"
he said. "It just doesn't make sense.
We have it here in North Carolina. We should
utilize it here in North Carolina."