Lonnie Beach is really proud of his 5.5-pound sweet potato, displayed at his produce stand on Bells Highway about eight miles from Walterboro.
“I just thought it was unique, and everybody else does too. They ask ‘What is that?’ and I say ‘It’s a sweet potato,’” he said.
The potato came from Bamberg County near Ehrhardt where Beach buys sweet potatoes for his stand. They didn’t want to part with it, but after a little negotiating, Beach left with the potato in hand — for free.
“It’s been a real conversation piece out here. Everybody just can’t get over that sweet potato,” he said.
But the sweet potato is not the only unusual vegetable he’s had this year. A couple of weeks ago, he landed a giant cabbage. He put it on display in the back of his golf cart at the road, and soon had a woman who wanted it. However, after she toted it back to the stand from the road, she realized it was too much cabbage. That was ok with Beach because he really wanted to keep it. But then 30 minutes later a man arrived that just had to have it. Beach sold it for $5.
Beach started his stand in September, just to have something to do in his retirement. He first retired from TransSouth in Walterboro in 1990, taking the business from $200,000 to $10 million during his tenure.
Then he went to work managing watermelons, finding farmers who wanted to plant them, helping them get the watermelons planted, grown and sold. “One day from 8 am. until 8 a.m. the next morning, I loaded 21 tractor trailers of watermelons,” Beach said. But that job required a lot of travel, ranging from Florida to Delaware. “I enjoyed it, but it was tiresome, challenging,” he said. So when the company’s owner died last year, Beach decided to retire for real.
But without his wife, Shirley, who died seven years ago, he found he wanted something to do. Hence, the produce stand. And it has flourished.
He still travels, collecting produce to sell. His daughter and son-in-law live in Georgia on a farm that produces the pecans and onions he sells. The stand also stocks oranges, grapefruits and tangerines purchased through a friend in Florida, tomatoes, apples, Vidalia and sweet onions, collards, mustard and other fresh veggies — and of course, sweet potatoes.
Beach said he gets a surprising number of out-of-town customers. “The tourists come from Edisto Beach. Somebody yesterday was from Charleston.” One man from Florida bought 25 pounds of collards, saying they didn’t have collards in Florida. Even people from New York stop by for pecans and sweet potatoes.
“They just can’t find this kind of thing beside the road,” Beach said. “I enjoy it. I get to meet a lot of people. And it gives me something to do to occupy my mind, stay busy.”