THE BEDNER FAMILY, from left, Bruce, Denise, Steve, Marie, Megan, Jennifer, Jesse (on tractor), Suzanne, Charlie, and their dog, Chester.
Farming runs deep in the Bedner familybackground — and they’re hoping it continues for a long time yet, thanks to Bedner’s Farm Fresh Market, a 9,800 square foot store that has become a popular destination in the Boynton Beach, Fla., area.
Lots of folks do their regular shopping there now. Come weekends, Bedners’ market is so much the rage that it is best to head there early in the day.
On special weekends throughout the year, their property looks as though it’s hosting a county fair. Cars crowd the parking lots and people wander about, listening to live music, eating barbecue, riding trams through fields and, not coincidentally, buying fresh vegetables, fruit, meats, cheeses, caramel apples, homemade ice cream and boiled peanuts.
The Bedners grow many of the vegetables they sell. For six decades, they’ve operated a commercial pepper and cucumber farm near Delray Beach, south of the market location. In addition to the market, which opened in 2009, they also offer U-Pick strawberries and tomatoes in nearby fields.
“In Boynton, we had an ideal location along U.S. 441,” says Marie Bedner. “We saw a need for U-Pick. Then we saw a need for the market. We started this at about the same time all the interest in buying local foods started. We found that people really like to buy from real farmers.
“We did this for the next generation, so the younger ones can get involved in the farm. Three of them — Jesse, Jennifer and Megan — are all interested in agriculture. We hoped expanding this way would give them a way to work with us.”
Just about the entire Bedner clan works at the farm and market. Three Bedner families, including Marie’s husband Steve, Charlie and his wife, Suzanne, and Bruce and his wife, Denise, plus the three 20-somethings, are employed here.
Charlie and his son, Jesse, keep the farm’s machines running. Bruce manages field workers, including the pepper harvesting operation. Denise and Suzanne work in the store and organize field trips for children and groups, as does Jennifer. Megan also works in the store and helps her uncle Steve order produce. Marie handles bookkeeping, farm records and payroll.
“It’s truly a family farm,”Marie says.“We all do whatever needs to be done. People seem to like the idea that this is a real family making a living on a real farm. One of the guys is always here at the market. If a customer has a question about anything, they can answer it. That is a very good thing because we get instant feedback from our customers.”
Steve thinks being on-site with customers is particularly important.
“If somebody wants to talk to a Bedner and ask questions, there’s always one of us on the floor of the market,” Steve says. “That’s what separates us from a farmer’s market, where the products may not have been grown by the person selling them. This is the only legitimate situation for consumers to buy from a farmer.”
That customer feedback figures into the Bedners’ planning for the market. “We’re still on a learning curve,” Marie says. “We’ve been open two years and are always trying to figure out better ways to do things.”
Dealing with retail customers may be new, but the Bedners long ago figured out how to grow vegetables. The brothers’ father, Arthur, moved to the Ft. Lauderdale area in 1950 and soon began farming.
“He came with a couple of bushels of apples and 20 bucks in his pocket,” says Steve. “A couple of other guys came down with him from Pennsylvania. He’d been born on a farm up there and liked it; he figured a farm in Florida would take off.
“He married our mom, Henrietta, and started farming in Broward County. Then he got pushed out by development and moved to Delray in 1960. That’s still our home farm. This operation at Boynton is diversification for us.”
Steve and Marie kept the generationalfamily farming ties going. Marie’s father was an eggplant grower in Broward County. She and Steve grew up on the same street in Ft. Lauderdale. At age 8, Steve first proposed marriage. That pretty much sealed the deal.
As an adult, Marie went to work for a veterinarian, where, among other things, she learned computer skills. By 1990, Arthur Bedner realized the farm needed her computer abilities to keep things organized, so Marie joined the family business.
“I got us computerized and brought up to speed,” she says. “That has changed altogether in the last 22 years, though. We have a good CPA we lean on a lot.”
Before long, Marie was fully involved in both the family farm and in Florida agricultural circles. She is now on the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA) board of directors.
“It was time we got more involved with FFVA,” she says. “They’ve been really helpful through the years — they have workshops that are good and keep us up-to-date on things.”
Since building the market, part of the family’s role now is to educate urban people about the realities of modern-day agriculture, Marie says.
“It sounds kind of strange, but a lot of people living on the east side of Boynton Beach didn’t realize there was so much farming on the west side. People come out here to see what our crop looks like and they can see how it is grown. Some have never really been out in a field before. Some bring their children and it’s educational for them.
“When they see how fresh and prettyour stuff is, they try it and then they come back over and over. The quality of our cauliflower, romaine, pepper and sweet corn can’t be touched by the big box stores. After people try ours, they realize that — once they taste what we grow, they’re loyal customers.”
During the growing season, 90 percent of the produce in the market comes either from the Bedner farm or from other local growers.
“You just cannot overstate how important the local food movement has become,” Marie says. “People want to know where their food comes from; they want to ask real farmers questions. The biggest question we get is about genetically modified foods and, of course, we do not grow anything that has been genetically modified.”
Special events at the market draw hordes of visitors, most of whom become customers. The market hosts several special days throughout the year. Kids U-Pick pumpkins in a cucumber field in the fall. The Bedners host a Halloween experience for children. Santa visits during the holiday season. Children flock to the Easter egg hunt. Families enjoy the Memorial Day extravaganza. The farm market even hosts a dogs event.
“This place has become kind of a weekend destination for families, which is a wonderful thing for us,” Marie says. “We have a lot of things for them to do here: homemade ice cream, barbecue, a gentleman playing the fiddle, a DJ who really gets kids going, and even a chainsaw artist.
“People bring lawn chairs and just sit and watch. Parents seem to enjoy getting kids out where they can see produce that isn’t in a grocery store but in a field. We have all sorts of groups visit here — we even had the purple dress/red hat ladies, who were a fun group.”
The Bedners use the latest marketing toolsin addition to traditional advertising techniques to keep in touch with fans and customers.
“Facebook is a great free tool to use,” Marie says. “We put all of our specials on FaceBook. We do specials every weekend. Our sweet corn is some of the sweetest you’ll ever eat, and we let people know when it’s ready. People like to know prices before they drive out here.
“We send out e-mail blasts to let people know what’s going on here, and do big ones for special events like Halloween. On our website there’s a place to sign up for our newsletters. You can also watch our TV commercials on the web page. We do traditional kinds of things, too, like running coupons in the newspaper. We have to advertise and get our name out there.”
It’s a different world for farmers than when Arthur Bedner started in 1950. In some ways, though, the key things remain the same: quality produce, good markets and family members who love the business.