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Young market manager sticks to his roots

Emily Lytle * Delaware
elytle@doverpost.com
Dover Post

When John Honaker was 10 years old, he would set up a card table alongside the road and sell produce from his parents’ garden. Now, 15 years later, he hasn’t shaken his passion for produce.

Along Route 13 southbound lanes near Cheswold is a gravel lot where a big white tent and the sign “John’s Market” frame carefully displayed fruits and vegetables, ranging from vibrant strawberries to deep green zucchini.

“I think when it’s in your blood, it’s there to stay,” Honaker said. Not many people in their twenties are managing produce stands, he said. “I think it’s a dying breed. I think another 20-30 years from now you’re not going to find a lot of these.”

Honaker has been selling from the tent for five years. Standing alongside him has been friend and mentor Butch Schelts. After more than 30 years in the farmers market business, Schelts is retired and unleashing some of his trade secrets.

“Now, I’m working for him, so I’m showing him what I knew,” Schelts said. “I’m seasoned and beat,” he said laughing.

Honaker nodded knowingly. “It’s a rough job,” he said. “A lot of people think, you know, you’re just buying it and putting it out and selling it. It’s a lot of legwork”

He gets up as early as 3 a.m. each day, spending most of his time running around to get produce directly from farmers. When he’s not doing that or running the stand, he’s taking care of his own crops at home, including squash, tomatoes and berries.

The stand is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Following Honaker’s faith, the stand is closed Sunday. “We believe that God created six days to work, and the seventh is for rest. And in this business we need a day of rest,” he said.

His faith affects how he approaches his business, too. “Money, it’s nothing. It’s something that we’re blessed with, and we’re called to be faithful stewards, and we’re called to live modest,” he said. “That’s something very important to me. Just be modest.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Honaker delayed his stand’s opening by about a month. “COVID really set us back,” he said. “It’s something I never expected. I say every year is rough, but this year takes the cake.”

Schelts said many farmers markets are struggling because produce prices are high right now. “Some farmers markets have opened and closed already for the season,” he said. “It’s the prices. They’re outrageous.”

Still, they said people are coming to the stand as often as before. They expect business to pick up more when Delaware’s fresh melons come around in the next week or so.

When Schelts talked about watching his partner over the years, he spoke with pride. “I’ll give him credit: he’s come a long, long ways. And he’s worked for what he’s got. Nothing was handed to him,” he said. “He’s got nowhere to go but up.”