History has given us many notable rivalries and feuds from the tragic love of the Montagues and the Capulets to the bitter hatred between the Hatfields and the McCoys. Many stories have been passed down through generations while others have yet to be told. The story I am about to tell exists deep in the dusty pages of farm market folklore. It is the story of the Moholts, the Normans, and the race to 500 Dozen.
Back in the days when a produce stand was just a produce stand I remember sitting in front of my grandparents property along River Road. People were generally happy to see a quick easy pullover for fresh picked corn, homegrown tomatoes, and sweet, juicy peaches. My brothers and I were students trying to make a few bucks for school in the fall. We would drive to the farms each morning, load up our parents’ Ford Aerostar then sit out and sell.
As I set up one morning, a young lady came up to inform me that she and her brothers were setting up a stand right down the street in front of the firehouse. I didn’t think anything of it and was like, “…uh, okay, good luck.” She seemed a little surprised by my courteous indifference but also somewhat relieved by my lack of animosity. I always thought do the best you can and don’t worry about what others are doing. That was not my partners’ philosophy. To them this was war. What followed was a deep-seeded grudge and ten year struggle for the title “Corn Kingpin”. No gravelled shoulder or vacant parking lot in Montgomery County would be spared.
After the encounter with the younger Moholt sister there was no direct contact between the Normans and Moholts. We would cross paths, however, each morning at the farms we both frequented to supply our stands. We could always get a gauge of their operation based on how many cars were parked at their stands, and how much corn they would buy each morning. Both businesses sold only fresh picked corn so whatever was bought that day was an indicator as to who was the busiest.
As for the Moholts, they always struck me as being exactly what we weren’t. They were blond haired, blue-eyed farm boys that looked like All-American football players. Their shirts were tucked in, they were clean-shaved and I couldn’t tell them apart. Their trucks were uniform, their stands well-managed and busy.
The Norman’s were scrappy, resourceful, and lacking any uniformity whatsoever. Every stand was its own circus. Our philosophy was “stack it high and watch it fly”. Every worker, a unique personality. Every truck a one of a kind piece of junk. Our stands showcased individuality. This one might be blending smoothies, that one grilling corn, another run by a fire curled Carmen Miranda donning a fruit arrangement upon her head challenging customers to eat hot peppers for prizes. There was no stunt too brazen or risk too bold. The goal? To sell more than any other roadside market. The Moholts and Normans were neck and neck. In order to establish ourselves as “Kingpins” we’d need another stand.
One day I get a call from Dave Martin. Dave once told me there wasn’t an acre in Montgomery County he hadn’t farmed at one time or other. He was old and thin with a brimmed hat like my grandfather would wear. He exuded a wisdom and charm that was disarming. Everyone waived to him as we drove through town. His eyes were cunning like a fox. Once my guard was down he would sell me all kinds of stuff. My trunk was filled with miscellaneous objects he had sold me which I hadn’t a clue as to what to do with. The reason Dave called was because he was ready to retire.
To say Dave was conscientious about money may be an understatement. He knew the value of a penny for sure. Unfortunately he hadn’t reappraised that penny since about 1938. Everything had a value to him. He had a nice business which included several custom farm wagons, a truck, a lease for a 7 acre farm and operation base, lots of equipment, and most of all a booming produce stand along Georgia Avenue in Olney, MD. There were two groups interested in Dave’s Olney farm market. The Normans and the Moholts.
I believe Dave went with the group to whom he could sell the most stuff. Many people would ask me how I got into farming. Were my parents farmers? Was it in my blood? The truth is one moment I was talking to Dave Martin about his produce stand, the next moment I’m wearing a straw hat, holding a pitch fork and signing a three year lease. To this day I’m still scratching my head.
Months later Steve Norman meanders his way up Rt 97 towards Lone Cedar farm. The feeling of golden promise one gets in the early morning while driving through the countryside, with windows down in an empty truck is invigorating. Along farms, through woods and over streams, the drive through Brookeville by the giant carved angel that seems to smile and wave as you drive past; the alpacas and sheep grazing by the one traffic light in Sunshine, MD. Finally Steve pulls into Jack Shultz’ place at Lone Cedar Farm. The Australian shepherd gnaws on an ear of corn while the workers load bushel baskets onto the Moholts’ truck. Jack asks how much corn we need and Steve proudly answers loudly so the Moholts can hear,”500 DOZEN, Jack. Yes you heard me right. That’s 500 Dozen. Just get it on up there if you can.” The taste of triumph is fresh and sweet as that morning’s corn.
Over the next few years the rivalry and animosity towards the Moholts faded into a quiet respect and admiration personally speaking. Driving past their stands every day kept me working hard to make ours even better. It was somewhat reassuring knowing there was somebody else out there that cared as much as us; doing what we do, facing the same challenges and overcoming the same obstacles. I know the Moholt brothers faced some personal tragedies and am not sure if this is what ended their run in Bethesda or if they just moved onto greener pastures. I can picture their Dave Martin wagon and artfully done signs at Wildwood Shopping Center and wish them the best. If they ever consider opening a new stand please don’t do it near us.