Standing on Solid Ground
Through determination and a willingness to embrace change, the Clemmons family, owners of Heritage Fresh Market in Supply, has overcome challenges on the farm by keeping it fresh and local.
At Heritage Fresh Market in Supply, owners Jody and Lauren Clemmons proudly display their motto on a sign at the front door: “Welcome to Heritage Fresh Market, where farming is a family thing.”
The Clemmons family has been farming in the heart of Brunswick County for four generations. In the beginning, the Clemmons cultivated the land for the production of row crops, including tobacco, corn, wheat and soybeans. Jody grew up on the 1,500-acre farm and worked with his father, Waddell.
“He taught me best practices for growing good crops and a strong work ethic,” Jody says. “My dad’s generation worked hard.”
After studying agriculture at North Carolina State University, Jody returned to the family farm in the early 1990s and again worked alongside his father. At that time, Jody also reconnected with Lauren, his high school sweetheart. They got married and together they had three children, Cole, Katie and Cori Lee.
Farming wasn’t always an easy road to travel for the Clemmons family. Major weather events like Hurricane Florence and declining crop prices were making it difficult for the farm to survive.
“We had experienced several challenging years. Why was it so hard?” Lauren wondered.
In the fall of 2019 the Clemmons family decided to go in a new direction with the intention of selling produce to the rapidly growing community of local residents and tourists who visited the area each year.
“We had considered growing strawberries,” Lauren says. “It just seemed to be a comfortable step in the right direction.”
Their first crop of strawberries brought new customers to the farm in the spring of 2020, encouraging the Clemmons family to take a leap of faith.
“It really was the tipping point for us. It was a great way for us to understand how hungry the community was for fresh local produce,” Lauren says.
The decision to make the shift from growing tobacco to growing produce at the farm proved to be the right one.
“Being a fighter is a must in the agriculture sector,” Jody says. “And accepting change is sometimes necessary. We’ve had to be open to farming new ways and implementing new technology for our farm to remain viable.”
They were selling strawberries from an open-air stand on Sellers Road, but the family needed more space to offer a larger variety of produce to their customers. The answer was simple. They looked to the corner of Highway 17 and Sellers Road, where Waddell had constructed sheds and a tobacco barn roughly 40 years earlier.
Jody and his mother’s cousins, the Whorley family, had a vision for a fresh produce market. Together they designed and built a large open space with a special counter in the center.
“I love that our main counter is in the middle of the space,” says Lauren, who manages the market operations. “It creates a warm, friendly atmosphere at the market and allows us to greet each person with a smile as they walk through the door.”
The countertop is made of the original black walnut taken from the old sheds, and the sides of the counter showcase the tin taken from the tobacco barn Waddell had built.
On November 21, 2020, the new building was ready, and Heritage Fresh Market opened its doors to the public.
“Opening the doors of the new market was a shared excitement because the community was thrilled to see our progress and there was a lot of anticipation,” Lauren says. “We wanted our customers to be part of the family.”
While the Clemmons extended family includes their loyal customers, it also includes many dedicated people who worked in the farm fields and helped with the transition from tobacco to produce along with the hardworking team at the market.
Today the Clemmons family grows and sells a wide variety of North Carolina staples, including peas, beans, white sweet potatoes, mustard greens, beefsteak greenhouse tomatoes, watermelon and those delicious red strawberries.
“The goal was to make the fresh produce the foundation of what we offer, then to include additional native food items to compliment the produce,” Lauren says.
Additional offerings from around the state include Red Clay Gourmet Pimento Cheese from Johnson City, Aunt Ruby’s Peanuts from Enfield and Elderberry Syrup from Black Mountain. Another specialty food is Gold Rice from the Tidewater Grain Company in Oriental, which is growing heirloom gold rice for the first time in North Carolina in more than 120 years.
Artisan baked goods are delivered fresh on Wednesdays. Customers can choose from an array of locally baked goods, featuring focaccia breads, sourdough breads and chocolate chunk cookies to name a few. Fresh frozen meals from Ladyfingers Gourmet to Go have become very popular as well.
“We are not just a business, we are farmers,” Lauren says. “That’s what we do, that’s who we are. We have adapted our business plan to meet the needs of the community.”
It is said that history repeats itself, and that is certainly the case for the Clemmons family. Jody and Lauren’s son, Cole, graduated in the spring of 2020 from North Carolina State University with his degree in agricultural business. He had originally planned to work in a corporate setting after graduation, but following a weekend at home working with Jody he had a change of heart.
“Cole felt like he could be an immediate asset to us,” Lauren says. “He called Jody when he was headed back to school and said he had decided he wanted to come home.”
Cole now works with his father and grandfather on the farm.
The future is bright for the Clemmons family. Jody and Lauren’s daughter, Katie, assists her mother behind the scenes with managing the market.
“I love working with my mother and baking with my grandmother, Judy, in the kitchen,” Katie says. “I’m excited to see how I might bring new products and ideas to the market. There are endless possibilities for growth.”
In the future the Clemmons plan on offering homemade ice cream.
“We are looking at the possibility of using our fresh berries from the farm to make ice cream to sell at the market,” Lauren says. Specific details on this new venture will be announced later this spring.
After some tough years on the farm, the Clemmons family is thankful for the recent change in direction and the overwhelming support they have received from the community.
“It is only by God’s hand and your inclination to support this move that we are standing on solid ground today,” Lauren says.
Want to go?
Heritage Fresh Market
20 Sellers Road, Supply
Farm Fresh Update Hotline: (910) 253-1330
This year’s much-anticipated strawberries will be available in early April. Customers wanting to purchase berries should watch social media for updates or call the market’s daily Farm Fresh Update Hotline at (910) 253-1330 for a list of what’s available for the day.