After 52 years, Minnesota sweet corn seller passes the torch to long-time employee

Jasmine Johnson
Forum News Service

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -

When David Schonberg started selling sweet corn in 1968, there were no outdoor markets, only supermarkets.

He took his produce up to Fargo, N.D., from Alexandria to sell to large warehouses, but his efforts weren’t working. As the season came to a close, Schonberg decided he wasn’t going to sell corn anymore.

With the little produce he had remaining, he parked a pickup truck at what used to be Northside Floral in Alexandria.

“I felt foolish, but people stopped,” Schonberg said. “People bought, and I was encouraged.”

The following year, he set up a truck in an empty lot on the corner of Third Avenue East and North Nokomis Street.

“When we started, I wanted to try to make

a business in order to provide for my family,” Schonberg said. “But over the years, customers became friends, and that was one of the things that I never anticipated.”

Now, after 52 years, Schonberg said he’s been running the business long enough.

For the last few years, Jeffrey Hoffman has been in charge with Schonberg consulting him, so Schonberg said it should be a smooth transition. Hoffman started working for Schonberg as a 12-year-old, and he’s been a part of the business ever since.

Now, those driving see bright yellow pop-up signs announcing Hoffman’s sweet corn and produce, replacing the long familiar Schonberg’s signs.

“I’ve always enjoyed growing things, and it’s kind of fun getting up in the morning and picking some corn,” Hoffman said. “And the camaraderie that we usually have with the crew in the mornings or with the field work.”

Other than a small farm where Hoffman raises some of his own produce, Schonberg said he will be using the same trucks, same farms, same land and same equipment.

“He loves the business,” Schonberg said. “He knows as much as I know, and I think he will carry on just fine.”

When Schonberg started, he said that customers didn’t know what he meant by organic agriculture. Over the years, Schonberg said he’s seen an increase in awareness and appreciation for naturally grown produce. The sweet corn business has never been officially certified, but he said the practice has remained the same from the beginning: no chemicals and no weed killers on the fields.

“We tried to provide produce to our customers that we ourselves felt comfortable eating,” Schonberg said.

That customer-focus continues with Hoffman, who said people running the stands will wear masks or face shields, “not because it’s necessary being outside, but we don’t want people who are concerned about it to feel like we’re not concerned about their safety.”

“It’s really an honor to be part of the business,” Hoffman said. “I view it as not just a business but a service to the community.”

Sweet corn season typically starts in late July and concludes in early September. Farmers often plant sweet corn in stages so they can offer fresh corn throughout the second half of the season, according to a news release from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

“It’s a really cool business, and a lot of people really enjoy it,” Hoffman said. “It’s really cool this time of year to meet all the people that you’ve seen in the past.”

One of Hoffman’s sweet corn trucks parks at the intersection of Third Avenue East and North Nokomis Street in Alexandria, Minn. David Schonberg started selling sweet corn in 1968, and now he’s handing the business over to Jeffrey Hoffman.