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His hobby puts food on plates of neighbors
Larry Albers, right, along with Shawn Balin, left, and Tyler Goodrich at their Woodward Avenue produce stand. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Larry Albers saunters out of his home along Woodward Avenue like some dusty old cowboy. His hands tucked into his jeans, a hard day’s work painted across his face.

His day is only half done.

At 75, Albers doesn’t know the meaning of rest or retirement. His hands itch to mold and create, to raise and grow.

He works in the construction field, enduring those 4 a.m. wake-up calls and long drives to job sites all over. And when he’s home, you can usually find him at the half-acre lot next door with those calloused hands tilling the dirt.

There, he tends to his hobby, doing the only thing he says he’s loved longer than his wife, Jeanne Albers. Yes, Larry’s heart lives at the corner of Family and Farming.

“I’ve got a green thumb,” he says as he walks toward Albers Produce, a stand manned by his sons and guarded by a sleeping pooch. “So I like to get out here and grow stuff.”

It’s a modest operation, this small parcel of land bordered on all sides by subdivisions and busy Woodward Avenue near its T-intersection with Van Ryn Road.

His youngest son, Tyler Goodrich, polishes a squash while his other boy, Shawn Balin, rings up a customer. The sun is setting and there’s a nip in the air. Soon, the combination of the two will put a grip on the stand.

In the meantime, though, Albers Produce remains a source of home-grown and affordable organic goodies perfect for a Thanksgiving Day spread.

His table is stocked with some of the final yields of the summer season – sweet potato, squash, leafy greens, cucumbers, eggplant, tomato, apples, peaches, white and yellow nectarines, peppers, green beans and persimmons.

It’s a tasty, colorful smorgasbord of produce that has built a small following on Facebook and a steady stream of regular faces from the homes within a mile radius.

The 6-year-old stand has also become a chief supplier for one of Stockton’s newest restaurants, the Lincoln Cellar in the Lincoln Center. The executive chef, Alex Moreno, was a teacher at the Institute of Technology, where he befriended the Albers brothers. Shawn, 28, also graduated from the culinary program.

At the height of the summer season, Tyler says Albers Produce sold 75 pounds of tomatoes a day. All kinds, too. The rows behind the stand are lined with 10 varieties.

“As long as people enjoy it, we’ll stay open,” Larry said. “If we have the clientele, we’ll go full bore all winter.”

The family forecasts a 75 percent cut in profit during the winter season, largely because the colder temperatures are a deterrent for shoppers.

It won’t stop the farming.

The Albers planted onions last weekend, which will take up to six months to grow, and will soon plant potatoes, kale, celery, oranges, lemons and other citrus fruits, and bok choy.

There will also be a limited supply of melons, squash and peppers.

“Halloween is when it typically drops off. When it gets dark no one shows up,” said Tyler, whose taste buds and affinity for organic farming were inherited from Larry and honed at the culinary program. Like his dad, the 23-year-old hopes to one day own and operate his own farm and stand.

“And when it gets cold no one wants to get out of their car.”

Still, there’s reason to believe Albers Produce will continue to thrive.

Though this half-acre lot is fertile and rich, the Albers family realizes it won’t make them flush with cash. There has never been much of a profit anyways, Larry discloses, so the family of four is confident they can weather the inevitable tides of business.

They also have a deep sense of community and believe in the virtues that are born with each piece of fruit and vegetable they grow … and shared with each sale they make.

Larry is confident customers will return to the corner of Family and Farming for their fruits and vegetables. They might not come in droves like they have this summer, but they’ll return.

“People tell me that (our produce) is better,” said Larry, who has owned and supplied fruit and produce stands along old Highway 120 between Manteca and Oakdale. “I’ve got old fogies who tell me if we didn’t raise it they don’t want to buy it.”