Russell Honderd pinched off a piece of red pepper and popped it into his mouth.
“These are some of the sweetest peppers we have,” he said, standing behind a box of the red peppers mixed with plump pimento peppers and another box filled with baby carrots with lush green stems. A scale was hanging over his shoulder.
Honderd, the 31-year-old son of well-known Brookhaven residents Betsy Eggers and Jack Honderd, was at a recent Brookhaven Farmers Market selling the veggies, some wildflowers, and likely the most popular product on his menu — King of Pops frozen treats. He kept them stored in a refrigerated cart and topped with a signature rainbow umbrella.
The vegetables are grown at the King of Crops farm located in Winston, a city in Douglas County about 30 miles west of Atlanta. Honderd manages the farm, which produces produce for sale and for use in the pops, which now are sold throughout the Southeast.
At the farm, King of Pops founders Nick and Steve Carse are undertaking a large-scale effort to grow local, organic produce to use in the making of their frozen pops, Honderd said.
The 68-acre farm, purchased in 2014 by King of Pops, is undergoing some major infrastructure work under Honderd’s direction in order to grow a variety of organic fresh fruits and vegetables as part of a business plan to expand to “new projects creating an example of how business and environmental stewardship can benefit from one another.”
Seasonal crops at King of Crops include lettuce; arugula; slicer- and cherry-sized tomatoes; sweet and hot peppers; eggplant; sugar snap peas; strawberries; blueberries; blackberries; melons; assorted herbs; ginger; lemongrass; kale; collard greens and cucumbers.
“We grow fruits for pops,” Honderd said when asked what he tells people what he does for a living.
Cucumbers grown on the farm are used to create Honderd’s favorite pop, the cucumber-lime pop.
“I love it. It is so refreshing,” he said. “It’s definitely my favorite right now.”
King of Crops also has a salad club and grows produce people can buy specifically for salads. Customers can pick up the produce at the Brookhaven Farmers Market, the Ponce City Farmers Market or Decatur Farmers Market (although on this recent Saturday in Brookhaven there were no pickings because recent heavy rain had washed away the salad options).
Selling at local farmer markets is one way for the King of Crops to create some revenue as it creates the infrastructure needed for the large-scale farm effort, Honderd said, and gives him and others a chance to tell people about what they are doing.
“I really enjoy going to farmers markets and talking about what we are doing, meeting people … it’s a great feeling,” he said. “Farming is filled with long days and hard work and it’s rejuvenating to feel support from people.”
One of the biggest shortcomings to farmers markets, Honderd said, is the idea that they are only accessible to “certain people.”
“They are seen as a being for a niche crowd, wealthy people, a fad,” he said. “We really need to get more involvement and support from all people.”
Living and working on a farm is a natural career move for Honderd, whose parents are both advocates for protecting the environment. Eggers is chair of the Peachtree Creek Greenway, a planned new city park and trail system, and Honderd is an architect and developer.
“When I was a boy [in Brookhaven] I spent a lot of time playing with my brother on a creek that ran through our back yard, and that’s where I really fell in love with being outside,” Honderd said. “I developed a passion for environmental sustainability — it was really wonderful.”
The small creek ran next to the Brookhaven Library in what’s now known as Fernwood Park and drained by Apple Valley Road and then to Tugaloo Drive, he remembered.
“We could trudge through it … it was a fun place to explore and we were given access to all our neighbors,” he said.
Now, living and working on a farm fulfills what he sees as being important in life: environmental sustainability, social justice and access to food.
A nursery at the farm is also keeping with the environmentally sustainable mission of King of Pops, Honderd said. It grows and sells only plants native to Georgia, with the edible varieties intended for people to plant as what he called “food landscapes.”
“For the last 50 to 60 years, it’s been about trying to make foods cheap at the expense of farm workers … and consumers are suffering more,” he said.
“There are a lot of different ways we can change food systems,” he added. “It is a lot of work in order to affect change … but you got to take the first steps.”
And some of those steps are taking place on a pop farm.
For more information about King of Crops, visit kingofcrops.com.