SLOCOMB — Driving west down State Highway 52, Hendrix Farm Produce was hard to miss. If you didn’t see the sign out front, the large tomato mural on the side of the building was sure to grab your attention.
The seasonal produce business had been in the same spot next to the highway in Slocomb since 1993, selling tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, peppers, squash, zucchini, onions, and peas during the summer months. But, the tall Hendrix Farm Produce sign has been moved across the highway, and the Hendrix family is building a new produce market in front of the family’s home due to a highway expansion project.
A sign on the front of the old location directs people across the highway.
Like other property owners along Alabama’s State Highway 52 near here, the Hendrix family negotiated a price and sold their property to the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) earlier this year. They didn’t want to sell, but felt they had little choice but to do so.
ALDOT has been securing property along the stretch from Slocomb to County Road 73 for the four-lane project. The current expansion plans will add four lanes for Highway 52 all the way to Hartford.
The first phase is Slocomb to County Road 73 back toward Malvern, which encompasses the Hendrix property. Outside of Slocomb, a row of small brick homes are mostly empty and posts mark the expansion route across fields and front yards.
Tony Harris, chief of ALDOT’s Media and Community Relations Bureau, said the plan is to have the first phase under construction by the end of this year. A second phase from County Road 73 to Malvern is planned for construction mid to late 2023. A third phase will add lanes between Slocomb and Hartford, but there is no schedule for that phase, Harris said.
Local legislators hope to take the highway expansion all the way through Geneva County. When completed, the project has potential to transform communities along the highway.
“It opens up an area for economic development,” Harris said.
Rhonda Hendrix said she understands ALDOT is just doing its job, but selling was still a bitter pill to swallow.
She grew up in a farming family, and she and husband, Bruce, farmed long before they opened the seasonal produce market nearly 30 years ago. Their son, Donnie Hendrix, is the fifth generation on the family’s small farm. Family land, she said, holds a value beyond money. Her family even had a produce stand where Hendrix Farm Produce was located.
“My daddy had one there when I was a little girl, so it’s got a lot of family history and a lot of sentimental value,” she said.
With her 2-year-old grandson, Bryant, playing with his toy John Deere tractor in the mud, Rhonda Hendrix said she hoped the new building will be finished in time for the 2022 selling season that usually begins in mid-May.
“It’s in his blood already,” Hendrix said of her grandson. “When it gets in your blood, it’s just hard to get out.”
While some customers may believe Hendrix Farm Produce has simply closed, others have been keeping tabs on their progress with the new building and expressing support via Facebook, Hendrix said.
The family learned their business property was on the expansion route last June when state appraisers approached them. Hendrix said she was hoping for at least one more season in the old location, but it wasn’t allowed. The family had to wait until they closed on the sale in January before they could afford to start construction on the new building. They turned to three different suppliers just to get the steel, metal and other materials they needed.
With weather, gas and diesel prices, supply chain issues, planting crops, tending cows, and building a new market, it’s already been a tough year, Rhonda Hendrix said.
“Farming is not easy on a good year,” she said.
The new building will be bigger and more than likely nicer than the old one. They plan to widen their driveway, and Bruce Hendrix has plans to incorporate tree trunks as columns into the metal building. Before the building is even completed, an area has been framed out to expand the building’s slab.
“I asked my husband and son why don’t we just finish what we’ve got going on,” Rhonda Hendrix said. “… They’ve already started the addition.”
Peggy Ussery is a Dothan Eagle staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com or 334-712-7963. Support her work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.
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