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Hard work produces repeat business
Kenny and Denise Eastburn with the Baragelata family olive oil they sell at Denise’s Farmers Market. - photo by DENNIS WYATT
Farm fresh isn’t just a slogan with Denise Eastburn.

Many of the offerings at Denise’s Farmers Market some five miles east of Manteca on East Highway 120 just past North Murphy Road and across from Franzia Winery are picked in the morning from area farms and are sold that afternoon to tourists and a growing number of repeat South County customers.

“It’s not like the big stores that have to often gas fruit to give it color because they need to pick it so far in advance to ship it from farms to stores.”

Denise’s Farmers Market is one of six fruit and produce stands between Manteca and Escalon along the 10-mile Highway 120 corridor. And despite the fact fresh local produce is available in their own backyard, many in Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon don’t avail themselves of the opportunity to buy it.

But that is slowly changing.

Eastburn along with her husband Kenny manned a booth at this month’s downtown Manteca Crossroads Street Fair. That helped generate more local customers to the distinctive octagon-shaped fruit stand.

Most of their customers are still Bay Area residents traveling back and forth from the hills, commuters from the foothill region, and Yosemite-bound tourists with a strong smattering of foreign visitors.

During a 30-minute stretch on Tuesday, the fruit stand had two families from different parts of Europe - England and Sweden.

The fruit stand that the Eatsburns took over and then reopened a year ago February has local fruit and produce when they are in season as well as other products.

“We obviously can’t get mangos from around here,” Kenny noted.

Virtually every type of fruit and vegetable that is grown within 30 miles of the stand are sold by the Eastburns whether it is peaches from Patterson, pure honey from Lathrop, homemade olive oil from Escalon, or blueberries from a farm just a short drive away on Murphy Road. There is even her own boutique family olive oil brand - Baragelata - made from a unique older olive tree.

When they can’t find produce local they will get it as close by as possible such as strawberries from Oxnard. But when the local crops come in you can tell the difference, according to the Eastburns.

“The strawberries from around here are much sweeter in part because they have just been picked,” she said.

The same is true of watermelon. Most fruits like the well-drained soil in and around Manteca and Ripon and do well in the warm and hot days that cool off significantly at night thanks to the Delta breezes.

Denise credits God with bringing her back “full circle” to working in a fruit stand.  She had picked fruit growing up and started working in a fruit stand near Antioch as a 14-year-old.

“I love meeting people,” she said.

It is a sentiment shared by her husband. Both like chatting up customers even when they don’t speak the same language.

“It is amazing how you can communicate sometimes,” she says.

Neither minds pulling down 13-hour days or working six or seven days a week at the fruit stand that is open every day except Christmas. All the other fruit stands along the highway are seasonal or close for a month or so in the winter.

Prior to starting Denise’s Farmers Market, she worked 15 years at Schemper’s Hardware in Ripon and for the past four years was working a second job in the bakery at the Manteca Costco. Kenny also works 30 hours-plus in the flooring business in addition to the fruit stand.

“I love it,” he said. “I like interacting with people.”

The couple renovated the fruit stand after taking it over. That included extensive cleaning of the indoor bathrooms and adding tile, paint, murals, a clean patio area complete with a sink for running water, and paying closer attention to the quality of items sold.

“People really appreciate the clean indoor restrooms,” she said. “We even had a kid come tell us how much he liked them.”

They have thousands of followers on Facebook including many from around the globe who make it a point to tell their friends heading from San Francisco to Yosemite to stop at Denise’s.

Their summer hours are Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.