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Charlotte farm stand regulars mourn the passing of James Grier

Kathleen Purvis
Kathleen Purvis is the Food Editor for The Charlotte Observer.

If you didn’t get to the Sardis Road farm stand before last week, you missed the sweetest yellow corn I’ve ever had.

Other corn is still coming in, but the Honey Select Super Sweet Yellow is gone.

Sorry about that. I missed out on something, too. I didn’t get over there years before, when I should have, so I didn’t get to meet “Farmer James,” the man who started the beloved stand on Sardis near N.C. 51.

James Grier died June 13 at age 81. His farm stand was famous for sweet corn, good tomatoes and an honor system that let people drop their money in a bucket. It’s still being run by his wife, Sara, daughter Lynn Ollis and son-in-law Andy.

I had planned to get over there for years, just never had the time. So I went by at 7:55 a.m. on a Friday, a full hour before it opened at 9 a.m. An SUV pulled in a moment later, just checking to see if the stand was open yet. A second SUV stopped a minute later.

That one was driven by Ashley Von Cannon, a neighbor and longtime friend of the family. She was headed for Lake James and had arranged to pick up her corn a little early.

She’s still mourning, she tells me. “Farmer James was my person I went to, to help me.” He told her how to plant corn so it wouldn’t fall over, and how to plant tomatoes. Her boys used to cut through the fence from their neighborhood to come over.

Mr. Grier loved Tootsie Pops, but he didn’t like the chocolate ones, so he’d save them for the kids.

The farm stand isn’t much to see. Just a rough wooden table and a little bench under a crab apple tree loaded with fruit. The farm stand itself is a wagon that Andy Ollis pulls into place with a tractor, scales swaying. It’s already loaded with tomatoes, potatoes and bags of peanuts.

For the hour before opening, people kept pulling in to wait, telling me how much they loved that special corn – Honey Select Super Sweet Yellow – and how much they loved Farmer James. I heard about tractor rides and good turns, and the time he showed Karen Dewar how sweet the corn was by eating an ear raw, on the spot.

When Sara Grier pulled up in a small cart, people stepped over quietly for hugs and whispers of loss.

“It’s like a family gathering when you come here,” said Julia Eudy of Mint Hill.

By 8:50, when Andy pulled up a cart loaded with 36 dozen ears of corn, people had their bags ready. At 9, he gave a tiny nod and they fell on it like extras from a zombie movie. It was gone by 9:40.

Lynn Ollis says the family hasn’t talked yet about the future of the farm stand. For the moment, it’s still open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through the fall.

Running 10 acres is more than three people can handle, she says. They may keep it open next year but cut back a little on what they grow. It’s up to her mother.

“It’s very labor-intensive,” she says. “Daddy worked sun up to sun down.”

You’d think in all that time, I would have had a chance to meet the man. I’m sorry I didn’t.

Join the food conversation at Kathleen Purvis’ blog I’ll Bite, at obsbite.blogspot.com, or follow her on Twitter, @kathleenpurvis.
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