BOX ELDER COUNTY - It was nearly 80 years ago that schoolteacher George Nielson opened his first fruit stand. It was the 1930s, and money was tough to come by for nearly everybody.

"George A.," as he's known locally, built up his stand into something big over the years. It was one of the first fruit and produce stands to set up shop along the famous Fruit Highway in Box Elder County, and it's still running today - along with about a dozen other stands in the area.

From Brigham City to just past Willard, U.S. Highway 89 is home to enough fruit and produce stands to feed a small army. Locals make it a habit to stop by for fresh fruit or vegetables, and out-of-towners plan trips around driving down the highway.

George A.'s stand is now run by Janna and David Tyler of Perry. Janna's father, Ralph Nielson, helped operate Nielson's Fruit for several years  — before dying earlier this year — with his brother, George A. Nielson Jr., who has also died.

"My dad ran this as a service, not as a business," Janna Tyler said Friday afternoon in between helping customers. "It's a great family legacy."

Many of the fruit stands along the highway have been affected by disagreeable weather conditions. A surprise bad frost after last year's Thanksgiving killed trees, while seemingly unending rain and cold temperatures pushed the growing season back this year.

While it has affected the stands financially, it hasn't kept customers away this summer.

Randy Lemon, who runs the farm that yields the produce and fruit at Grammy's Fruit and Produce near Willard, said the bad conditions put the stand behind about two weeks. Because of that, the industry is just hitting peak season about right now.

Grammy's, named for the 85-year-old Helen Jane Lemon - Randy's mother, is in its 23rd year.

It actually existed in the 1940s for a time, but the Lemons shut it down to operate a dairy farm. Then one day, things changed.

"Dad decided he'd had it milking the cows in the winter," Randy Lemon said.

So the fruit stand came back.

It's a full-time, year-round job for the Lemons. Randy and his brother, Doug, run the farm, while Kevin Lemon manages the stand during the summer. Other family members help out where needed. Grammy's will stay in business through October and operate as a self-serve, on-your-honor business through November. By January, the family is busy pruning trees. Within a few months, the earth needs to be worked, and planting season comes soon afterward.

Stands along the highway tend to open in mid- to late-June with cherries and peas in high demand. As produce and fruit ripens throughout the summer, it becomes available for purchase. The business year will culminate with squash and other fall favorites in a couple of months.

On Friday, Cheri and Brent Woolstenhulme drove from Idaho Falls to Box Elder County.

"We had a free day," Cheri said after purchasing tomatoes and peaches from Tagge's Fruit and Produce in Perry. "So we just drove down to see what looks good."

The Woolstenhulmes made a day out of it, eating at Maddox and heading over to Cache Valley to see family afterward.

Tagge's, operated by Thayne and Cari Tagge, is a family business that has morphed into what it is since the 1980s when they started with raspberry stands. The family's locally grown produce, honey, jam and salsa is also available at several Salt Lake City locations.

But some, like Ben and Eve Richardson of Salt Lake City, travel to Box Elder County to get their fresh food.

Shopping at Paul's Patch Patch in Perry, the couple was picking out tomatoes, honeydew, peaches and a collection of other fruit items with their infant son, James.

Though they have family in the area, they were there specifically for the food this time.

"We came to see the fruit," Ben said.

Seeing that fruit every summer is exactly what keeps Randy Lemon of Grammy's Fruit & Produce going.

"It is so gratifying to watch all of the hard work hit here (the stand) right now," he said.

After working hard the whole year, it's nice to see the outcome.

"When you finally see the produce," he said, "there's a lot of gratification."

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ewheeler@hjnews.com

Twitter: emiliescribbles

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