Have you ever wondered how Norman’s Farm Market began? Let’s take a look at Norman’s Farm Market’s inspiring path to success, from its humble beginnings to becoming a beloved go-to destination for fresh produce that you now know and love.
The Idea That Inspired Norman’s Farm Market
One evening, the Norman brothers were hanging out with their family at their grandparents’ house off of River Road. John, about to graduate high school, Jeff, a junior in high school, and Steve, a freshman in college, were deciding on how they were going to spend their summer. Their uncle, sharing a story of one of his college adventures of selling fresh produce at the corner of River Rd and Bradley Blvd, inspired them. Jeff and Steve decided to follow in his footsteps, while John went off to travel Europe with a friend, eventually coming back to join his brothers in their adventure back home. Every day that summer they went out to the farms, bought local produce, and sold it off of River Road. After a few summers, the brothers decided to go all in.
Running 10 Stands At Once!
Eventually, the Norman brothers expanded to 10 stands and added more seasons, from plants to pumpkins to Christmas trees! Unfortunately, managing 10 stands wasn’t sustainable after they realized that only 4 were profitable, and after all their hustle and bustle the business was only breaking even. The stand locations changed every year, traversing all across Montgomery county. Now wherever they drive, they pass by a spot one of their many stands stood and reminisce about the early years of Norman’s. They’re reminded of how their business started, as high school boys selling produce at a table shirtless, shoeless, tentless, and making 3 bucks a day, and how much it has grown into the community it is now.
A Family & Friends Business
High school and college students have always manned Norman’s stands, and back then the employees were the Norman brothers’ cousins and friends. After a couple of years working for the Normans brothers, some of their friends decided to open up their own stand. Obviously, the Normans weren’t too happy about it, but they still supported them, running the stand when their friends went on vacation. After about 8 years, the Norman brothers took over the stand, now known as the Mass Ave stand. Around the same time, they also opened their Jones Mill stand, and these two stands continue to thrive to this day.
Norman’s Bethesda Deli Shop
The Norman brothers started off every year ambitious, always envisioning new ways to expand and new projects to take on. They were spontaneous, following their ideas as they came, never afraid to try something different. One year they decided to open an entire store in Bethesda. While shopping for produce refrigerators in New York, John and his friend stumbled upon a gorgeous Italian stainless steel glass deli counter. Next thing you know, their Bethesda produce and plant store became a deli shop! Not knowing anything about running a deli, they hired Dean and Deluca’s charcuterie manager and chefs from Balducci’s and sold soups, salads, sandwiches, and juices.
The Reston Market
Hal Kern, a classic hippie, ran the Reston Market in Virginia, although it was more like a carnival. It covered 20 acres with pumpkin patches, an old-timey country store, and so many eccentric characters and oddball activities, including trout fishing where customers could clean, cook, and eat their trout on site. A couple of weeks after John read the Reston Market’s feature in the Washington Post, Hal Kern walked into Norman’s Bethesda deli store. John couldn’t believe it! For John, it was an honor to shake Hal’s hand. He gave Hal a custom tour, offering to make him juice from their ten varieties of oranges. Little did John know that in a year’s time, he and his brothers would be approached by the Reston Market landlord to take over the market. In Reston, the Normans could basically do the same thing they were doing with their stands, but at a whole other level, and so they jumped at the opportunity!
Supporting Their Families
While running the stands in Bethesda and the Reston market in Virginia, the brothers realized that their company wouldn’t be able to support all three families. Since Steve, the eldest brother, had a law degree, he decided to part ways with the business. Before leaving, Steve introduced John to Eris, recommending John hire her as a stand manager. Eris and John started dating soon after and as John took over the Reston Market in Virginia, Eris managed the Mass Ave stand, and Jeff ran their other stands. John and Eris married in 2003 and had their first child, Jocelyn, the following year. John made the tough decision to leave the business, looking for a somewhat steadier paycheck to support his growing family. He worked in real estate for a couple of years, until he inevitably came back to the business. That’s when John, Jeff, and Eris took it to another level.
Getting Creative With The Business
To make it work, John, Jeff, and Eris decided they needed to find a way to create a steady flow of income throughout the year. As they pondered what to do, John remembered the stories Eris told of her family trips to Israel and how they’d buy their groceries from a man driving through their neighborhood with a wagon of produce. John then envisioned having a mobile stand, and from there, the inspiration for Norman’s CSA emerged. In practice, it was a rocky start with only 10 people signing up for the CSA’s first year. They packed the boxes of produce at the stands and members would come to pick them up from John and Eris’ deck. After a while they realized that people would often want to switch items out, not everyone would show up, and John didn’t enjoy packing the boxes, having difficulty deciding what to pack for that week’s share. So they figured out a solution to all of those problems while offering a unique service to their members. Their CSA would be customizable! Members could pack their own box of produce. The following year their CSA grew to 50 members, their third year to 250 members, and by the fifth year they were serving over 1,000 CSA households and many more through their Jones Mill and Mass Ave stands.
A Backwards Approach To The Business
Usually, farm stand businesses start with the farm, growing and then selling produce, but Norman’s started with their business idea, selling from other local farms. After twenty-seven years, they finally took the plunge, purchasing a 60-acre farm. That was a big investment, but it was well worth it since today half of the produce they sell is theirs, from the greens to the squashes to the strawberries. The family is incredibly proud of the growth of their start-up CSA and stand businesses, but there’s something special about running their own farm, growing and selling their own produce. Over the first few years of building their farm, they have experienced a deeper appreciation for the process, the patience, and the unpredictability of growing produce. The Normans love inviting their family, friends, customers, and employees to the farm, sharing the process with them. Jeff will drive everyone around on the tractor and John puts on his farmer hat transforming into farmer John, the tour guide. John can easily go on for over an hour talking about their produce in detail, how the weather has affected the crop that year, and how they’ve adapted. They’re always excited to share their recent developments, how many more varieties they’re planting, and their plans for the upcoming years.