The secrets of fruits and vegetables

By Justin Boron

Debbie Wade has an knack for picking out the good tomatoes.

Her eyes peer over baskets of plump ripe-off-the-vine tomatoes until she sees a bruise and snatches up the defected piece of fruit.

Such discrimination is an everyday occurrence underneath the weathered and sagging roof that shelter the fresh fruits and vegetables Wade sells for a living in Jonesboro.

Sandwiched between supermarkets and tract homes, the country store on Tara Boulevard has been owned by 47-year old produce peddler the for 12 years. But the ramshackle building has been there for as long as most people can remember, she said.

"I had passed by that little ol' store hundreds of times and never in my wildest dreams did I think I would own it," Wade said.

A Jonesboro resident as a child, she said she didn't give much thought to the stand until the find out it was for sale.

"I just fell into it."

It wasn't even a likely happenstance.

As a college student at the University of Georgia, known for its agriculture school, she studied journalism.

Somehow, she ended up in fruits and vegetables.

Now, Wade has all of the secrets of the trade under her belt.

For example, Wade is well-versed in the intricacies of watermelon selection.

"It's heavy for its size and should have a yellow bottom," she said. "That's where it sat on the ground long enough to get ripe.

"If it has those two things, 95 percent of the time, it's going to be a perfect watermelon," Wade said.

In the heat of summer, Wade says she and her employees bring loads of the crimson fruit to the store.

But the highlight will always be her tomatoes and the sandwiches they make.

"That tomato drips down your arm while your eating it," Wade said.

Two of her customers that stopped by the store recently agreed.

Randy Copeland, 52, said when he drives from Thomaston, Ga. to visit his mother, he always picks up some of Wade's tomatoes.

"I've got a garden growing," he said. "But it's probably going to be about another two to three weeks before they come in . . . until then I'll be up her to buy them."

Sharon Cranfill, 61, of Lovejoy said the tomatoes are a great alternative to supermarkets.

Wade has three employees at the store. One of them used to be one of her customers.

Glendora Patterson, 70, of Jonesboro said she didn't think she even knew Wade's name.

But she asked if she needed any help.

Wade says she gave her a job the same day.

Wade has a husband and two sons, Jeff Ratcliff and Michael Wade.