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FRUIT STANDS GOING STRONG DESPITE I-15

Published: Monday, May 17 1993 12:00 a.m. MDT

The South may have its Cotton Belt, Sun Belt and Tobacco Road. The West Coast may have Napa Valley and Silicon Valley. The Great Lakes region may have its Steel Belt. But Utah has its own Fruit Belt - U.S. 89.

Primarily scattered along a 10-mile stretch of the old highway that travels through Box Elder County to southern Idaho, nearly two dozen fruit stands remain selling home-grown fruit.Most fruit-stand owners consider themselves fortunate to have such strategic spots for business, despite the presence of a nearby I-15 interchange.

"We're in quite an enviable position," said George Nielson Jr., co owner of Nielson's Produce, 2055 S. U.S. 89, Perry. "We're closer to eastern Idaho than the fruit-growing regions of western Idaho. And a lot of LDS people come down from Wyoming and Montana, as well."

"(U.S. 89) has definitely been very good to us," said Nielson, whose family owns more than 350 acres with orchards of many varieties of cherries, apples, peaches, nectarines and apricots. Four generations of Nielsons have worked on the farm and in the fruit stand for more than a half-century.

Mas Sumida, co-owner of Sumida's Fruit, 3405 S. U.S. 89, Perry, agrees.

"There have been good times and bad times, but that's to be expected," Sumida said. "Things were better before the freeway (interchange) opened, but it has still improved a little over the past few years."

Fruit farming contributes nearly $20 million to the state's economy, and though the past two decades have seen Utah County provide the bulk of fruit yields, Box Elder still produces the lion's share of stone fruits such as peaches and apricots, and the stands have provided those farmers with a high-profile method of fruit sales, said Tony Hatch, USU Extension Services fruit specialist.

When resurfacing work on I-15 diverted some traffic onto U.S. 89 last year, it was a big boon for the farmers and fruit-stand owners, Hatch said.

Consequently, "(the farmers) had one of their best years (for sales), I think," Hatch said, adding that many of the Box Elder farmers had been smarting from killing winter frosts in the previous five years.

Also, Hatch said word of mouth has helped the fruit-stand owners. "I know there are people from as far away as Arizona who come to the stands in (Box Elder County)," he said. "Word has gotten around."

Word of mouth has helped the Sumida family survive in the business after patriach Motoharu Sumida, who immigrated to the U.S. after the end of World War II, died nearly a quarter century ago.

His sons, Paul and Mas, then opened their first stand on the family's 100 acres, where they grow cherries, apricots and peaches, as well as melons, cantaloupes and tomatoes.

"As people get to know you and know when you're open, you get loyal customers, and they tell their friends," Mas Sumida said. "You have to build on what you can get. But many of your customers become your good friends."

Sometimes loyalty can be fierce. When Orem's Verdan Richardson died in 1985, his wife, Lucille, sold the family-owned orchards. But she has kept the family produce stand, Richardson Farms, 1320 N. U.S. 89, Orem, up and running, selling produce grown in other Utah County farms. The Richardson family opened the stand in 1938, making it one of Orem's oldest surviving businesses.

"People come back after a while when they know you're going to be there," Lucille Richardson said. "They'll come back when they know you."

Like the Richardsons, the Nielsons diversified,.

After adverse weather conditions and competition from fruit farmers elsewhere, primarily apple orchards in Washington and cherry orchards in Michigan, the Nielson family expanded their stand, turning it into a country store and fruit stand. They now sell vegetables and other produce grown by them or by other local farmers and some goods more typically associated with convenience stores.

"(Converting the stand to a store) has helped us through the bad times," George Nielson said. "It's given us something to fall back on."

This article is one of a weekly series on the people, places and issues along Utah's U.S. 89.

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