Once a farmer, always a farmer


Alexis Gardner


While Main Street may be known to some Radford University students as a place to party, like Riley’s, or to eat, like Sharkey’s, a hidden gem that many do not know about is the farmer’s market. Every Saturday from eight a.m. to one p.m., from May to October, local farmers gather there to sell their produce.

As you walk toward the booths and pass the Hollar Hills Farms table, you’ll hear a soft, yet confident voice asking if you would like to try some fresh cider. That’s when you’ll meet Tom and Sally Simpkins.

Farming has always been a part of the Simpkins’ lives. “We both grew up on farms,” Tom said. Their parents were farmers, and their grandparents were farmers. Tom still has a farm in Carroll County, Virginia, that has been in his family since 1853.

“We just love to grow stuff,” Tom said. The retired couple works on the farm alone.

They have an orchard where they grow peaches, which Sally uses to make homemade jelly with a recipe she got from Tom’s mother. “The first peaches that come ripe is a cling peach, which means that it does not come off the stone, so you have to cut it off, so you don’t get it all off the stone. So you take the stones and the peel leaf, I put it in a big pot with a lot of water, and I simmer it for about several hours, and then I run it though keys clog to get the juice, and I use that juice to make my jelly. That’s it.” Paraphrase this. It’s a little long and unwieldy.

Having an orchard requires planning, Tom said. Like seven to eight years ahead of time. They have now had their orchard almost as long as they’ve been married – 30 years. They grow, not only peaches but also apples and pears.

Tom has had a booth at Radford’s Farmer’s Market for three years, and Sally for two. “I grow such a big garden; Sally finally said ‘well you’re just going to sell some of this stuff,’” Tom said.

Sally added, “We usually give or gave? Half of it away before we started this.”

Some days they don’t sell much, but that doesn’t discourage the Simpkins. They’ll take leftovers to a food bank down the street or back to their church in Snowville and let people take what they want.

An average Saturday at the Radford Farmer’s Market will have the Simpkins making about $125, they said. According to bls.gov spell this out data from 2016, farmers make about $31.91/hour. But even though Tom is retired, he still finds time to work at St. Albans three days a week doing 12-hour shifts.

The Simpkins grow and sell a wide variety of produce: apples, peach jelly, tomatoes, beans, peas, carrots, squash, corn, hot peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, mustard greens and kale. They also sell Sally’s crocheted crafts. She enjoys making things like baskets and then selling them at the market also.

It was hard for them to say their favorite food because they just love to grow everything, but Tom said one of his favorite foods to eat is tomatoes. “I love tomatoes. I eat three or four tomatoes every day. The ones out of the store are not much, but when you got fresh tomatoes out of the garden, you just can’t give a get? Enough of them, I can’t. I eat them every day.” They also use those make their spaghetti sauce. “It takes all day to do it,” Sally said. She’ll stir nonstop for three hours.

Their best-selling product is their apple cider. “We make about 11 to 14 gallons of cider every week,” Sally said. The process starts Friday morning at 10 a.m. Sally begins by cranking the apples using a hand-operated crusher. Tom then puts the apples into the press and presses them. They usually finish around two p.m. and then wake up at six a.m. Saturday morning to start their day.

When it comes to selling the cider, “we learned that if you tell people, it’s cider, they kind of turn their nose up at it,” Sally said, “but if you let them taste it, then you got them.” There are no preservatives or added sugar. Just the apples.

“We make ours out of Red Delicious,” Most ciders are made with Winesaps, which the Simpkins say have a much higher acid content which gives it a sour taste. “Ours is much sweeter.”

They sell a cup for two dollars, a half gallon for six dollars, and a gallon for ten dollars. Even though there weren’t many people at the farmer’s market on Saturday, they were still able to sell some of their cider. “I don’t even need to taste it. I’m just going to get some,” one regular customer said after declining a sample. He bought two gallons.

Tom and Sally aren’t into farming for the money, but because they love what they do. “We do good. That’s the whole purpose,” Tom said.