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Small patch keeps customers in fresh produce
Ben Keller, center, helps customers as Larry Albers looks on at his produce stand where Van Ryn Avenue meets Woodward Avenue in South Manteca. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Seeing Larry Albers selling his homegrown fruits and vegetables out of his home-grown produce stand is a welcome sight for Manteca residents south of the 120 Bypass.

For the last 40 years, the longtime local grower – who cut his teeth in the fields of Modesto and ran his own produce stand in Oakdale for more than a decade – has welcomed rural folks to his home at the corner of Woodward Avenue and Van Ryn Avenue to take their pick of his fresh harvest.

Whether it’s potatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers, eggplants, carrots, half-a-dozen different types of tomatoes or a handful of different types of squash, Albers can always be found either working to fill his bins or waiting for his regular customers to make their routine stops.

“I get a lot of regular customers that live here in the area and drive by and see me out planting, weeding, growing and waiting for the harvest,” said Albers. “Most of my business is repeat business. We don’t get a whole lot of outside people coming by, but everyone once in a while somebody new stops and we end up with a new regular customer.”

And it’s not like his stand is an easy place to miss.

Nearly 70 years ago when his wife was only five years old, she planted a sycamore tree on the property that the couple now shares and it has grown to cover more than 75 feet of shade space and has a trunk that is nearly four-feet wide – distinguishing it from some of the other arboreal sights in the area.

But what was once a rural roadside stand has since become a holdout of a bygone era in a section of town that is changing every day. The traffic on Woodward Avenue continues to increase, and Albers says that the vineyards and orchards that he used to see out of his front window have been replaced by homes.

He can’t help but feel nostalgic for a simpler time when the community he has grown to love was smaller and much more intimate.

“This used to be a country road, and now it’s a freeway through here at this time of day. Traffic gets pretty bad with people who cut off of the bypass and jump over here to get to Austin Road,” he said. “It gets really dangerous the way that people drive out here – it’s only supposed to be 45 but they’re going 70.

“I remember when Manteca used to be like the Modesto I grew up in with just a little Main Street. It’s changed so much. Everybody and their brother lives here now, and it has taken that small-town feel that used to make it special away a little bit.”

Even though it’s not the community he remembers, Albers still spends his time out in the individual patches dedicated to certain fruits or vegetables and makes sure that he gets what he needs to keep those who do slow down and stop happy.

There is a pair of young brothers that come work for him in the early evening that are relying on things being ready, and Albers isn’t one to disappoint. In this case he gets a chance to instill work ethic into a generation that he feels has all but lost it.

“I’ve got the grandsons of a friend that come down and help me out. It gives them something to do,” Albers said. “It also teaches them something at the same time. The kids these days don’t know how to work and they don’t want to work, and that’s not the case with these boys, and that’s good to see.”