The Newark-based utility, however, worked out a plan to allow DeHart to keep the market open indefinitely - across the street, on land owned by the utility. It built a bigger and fancier farm stand designed by DeHart's wife, Mary Ellen, and picked up all the costs."We really wanted to be a good neighbor," said PSE&G spokesman Douglas Anthony. "We wanted to do the right thing."
PSE&G had to move the produce stand to construct two massive transmission towers to upgrade its 230,000-volt system. The new stand is at the front of the utility's substation compound on Jessup Road.
The bright-red produce stand opened for business last month, to the delight of longtime loyal customers. A grand opening and ribbon-cutting with local officials is to be held Tuesday.
"They deserve a pat on the back for doing that," said Peter Furey, executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau. "A lot of utilities are not that magnanimous."
Roadside farm stands and community farmers markets are vital to the industry, Furey said. Without them, farmers typically sell their produce at distribution centers where market prices often fluctuate, he said.
The new stand has been bustling with business since it reopened. A steady stream of customers stopped at the stand Thursday. They pored over a host of produce including baskets of juicy red Jersey tomatoes, corn, and melons.
"I'm just glad they're open again," said Mary Mack, of West Deptford. "It's like family or friends who weren't around anymore."
Joyce Nuneviller, 82, of West Deptford, made her daily stop at the stand to purchase corn. "I'm so happy for them. They have the best produce around."
Although PSE&G owns the building, the DeHarts have an open-ended lease on the produce stand. They also are farming several acres on the PSE&G property.
"We're really pleased with it," said Mary Ellen DeHart, 56. "They did a good job."
Neighbor John Pollock, who has patronized the produce stand since 1968, called the move "a win-win" for the DeHarts and the community.
"The vegetables are top-notch," Pollock said. "They sell everything fresh. I love the stand."
Because of its proximity to Jessup Road, the location was the best possible site for the retail stand, DeHart said. The family owns 50 acres of farmland that sits off the road.
"They are basically a staple of this community," Mayor Ray Chintall said. "It was important to get them reestablished."
Business has increased at the new location by at least 30 percent, DeHart estimates. He credits the uptick partly to the larger volume of eastbound traffic and easier access. "We're doing good."
Today, it remains a family-run business with daughter Sue Ellen and son Charles involved in the daily operation and another son, Billy, pitching in when needed. Charles may take over the business when his parents retire.
As a young child, DeHart began selling fruits and vegetables from a wagon that he pulled around the neighborhood. His father let him keep his earnings. He even bought his first car from sales - a 1968 Camaro.
After high school, he left the farm briefly to work in manufacturing jobs. He returned several years later and took over when his father retired 20 years ago.
"I just came back and stayed," DeHart said. "I lived my entire life on the farm. I like farming."