David D. Johnson of Toledo, Ohio was on a threefold mission: Sell fresh fruit and vegetables; set an example for others; and employ young people. Not only has he succeeded in fulfilling all three goals, he's also progressive: “The trend in most cities is going toward urban agriculture, and that's partly because of the blight and razing houses and leaving open spaces,” Johnson noted. The increasing interest in urban agriculture (or community gardening) and a return to eating fresh produce is essential to fighting ever-rising obesity rates and the results of it (such as poor health).
The former educator grows fresh produce in central Toledo and in Swanton (just outside Toledo), brings in produce from other growers and sells fresh fruits and veggies at his Johnson Produce Market (he started out selling produce in an empty lot from a truck, to underneath a gazebo to a building- a blue-and-white barn-that he built himself on the same lot).
And many local and national officials have noticed: “Mr. Johnson is amazing. To me, he's making a difference for the neighborhood. It's critical that he's meeting a need for convenient access to fresh vegetables and fruits”, said Toledo City Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson. The venture is also very important to U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who views Johnson as “a transformational figure in that part of our community. He has been literally been planting fruit trees in the city, and he's a modern-day Johnny Appleseed. I have watched Johnson develop very closely with great pride.”
And the site location of Johnson's Produce is a crucial factor to Kaptur: “He is really doing something that so many others have not: He is providing fresh fruit and vegetables in a part of the community that lacks good nutrition.”
Johnson has a solid educational and agricultural background: Bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Toledo and career as a teacher and an elementary school assistant principal, also in Toledo.
He's been in produce since age 5 (!); and he currently maintains a small orchard and garden near his home and business. Johnson has also owned farms in rural northwest Ohio and Georgia and brings produce to sell from Georgia and Indiana-and from local farms.
He's also still a teacher, in a sense; every summer, Johnson employs several high school and college students.
Johnson is aware that it's equally important to make it easy for customers to buy his produce, so he accepts SNAP (The Food Stamp program), WIC and senior nutrition coupons, as well as cash.
“My whole purpose is to put high-quality fresh produce in the inner city. I want it to be as good as you can get anywhere.”
According to “Making It On Your Own” by Sarah and Paul Edwards, there are four patterns of business success: The fast start, slow and steady, the endurance trial and the roller coaster ride.
Johnson's business is a good example of:
SLOW AND STEADY - Many successful businesses are more like an endurance marathon, building momentum over the long haul. This is a more commonplace experience than the overnight success. As long as you can see the gradual progress you’re making, this pattern can be a more comfortable one.
Sources: “Making It On Your Own” by Sarah and Paul Edwards and “Ohio man grows, sells produce in urban lot” by Rose Russell, The Blade-The (Sunday) Vindicator, Oct. 27, 2013