A Century-21 'for sale' sign has shadowed Hauppauge Farms for two years. A place that was once a family’s livelihood and community fixture has become an economical and emotional sore.
Forty nine years ago, Frances and August Hoeffner started farming the land and selling some corn and tomatoes. A decade later, the little rainbow umbrella stand grew to supply neighborhood demand, spawning another 40 years of produce sales at the farm stand.
“Farmers are a different class of people,” Su Ruckdeschel, the Hoeffners' daughter, said while reminiscing laborious days she and her three brothers - Daniel, James and Henry - shared.
The farm-grown mother - who raised her own children to pursue occupations outside agriculture - is certain that her field is a dying one, which is why the property is for sale. Add in personal trials the family has experienced, and Ruckdeschel believes selling is the best option.
Currently, the Ruckdeschels cannot afford health insurance. The family has been plagued by ALD, a genetic disorder that has tragically claimed the lives of Ruckdeschel's son, Ryan, at age 10 and her brothers Daniel and James, at ages 52 and 49.
A picture of Uncle Dan hangs at the stand’s register, looking upon each customer with a worn but genuine smile. Ruckdeschel misses the years when Dan and her sons - August, Daniel, Torrie and Ryan - busily farmed crops in St. James while she and her parents handled the Hauppauge and Nesconset stalls.
But big chains like Shop and Stop, Costco and Walgreens are causing havoc for mom-and-pop businesses, Ruckdeschel said.
She recalls pumpkins in a Walgreens. “It’s a drug store. What right does a drug store have to sell pumpkins? I said, ‘Do I sell drugs on the farm-stand?’” she asked.
“We really cannot compete,” Fran Chou agreed, a clerk at Tropica Florist, next to Hauppauge Farms.
In attempts to keep up, the stand remains open seven days a week 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Between Ruckdeschel and her husband, Ed, harvesting and managing is not feasible, so the couple buys their products from local farmers.
Ruckdeschel and her husband Ed are asking $700,000 for their 29,000-square-foot commercial property, located just north of the Long Island Expressway on Route 111. She tried explaining why she has kept the farm stand open long after its hay day. “
"Farming is just in your blood. You have to love this,” Ruckdeschel said.
One recent mid-week night, as a few regulars fingered through the tomatoes and corn ears, Ruckdeschel waited patiently. A young husband and wife bought cauliflower and a tomato, no more than $10 worth.
“My old regulars are dying off," Ruckdeschel said.
The Hauppauge land is the only commercial property the family has left.
"We're waiting for someone with a vision," she said, trying to prepare for the day when the 'for sale' sign is taken down.