One Small Voice
by Laura McGaffey
Articles originally published in "The Voice in the Desert"

Much More Than Produce at The Produce Wagon
January 2005

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When Dalen and Sheri Nichols turned the old Rancho Grande Bar and Grill building into a grocery store they retained the name of the produce sales business they operated off a farm wagon for four years in Sunsites. They continued to support the Sulphur Springs Valley community by offering high quality produce from local farmers. But they also added meat supplied by local ranchers, including pork from Beck's Hogs, and a full line of grocery and dry goods products, and fresh baked goods from the Baker's Haus in Elfrida and Willi's Deli in the Mustang Mall. And up in the front of the store they have a good supply of sewing goods, including quilt fat quarters and fleece, and needles and thread. You can even buy soaps and lotions manufactured at the Udder Delight down in Old Pearce.

Once a week they make a trip into Tucson to pick up special orders for customers at the Tucson Cooperative Warehouse. The Coop has a vast line of organic and other health food and several customers buy their groceries exclusively from them so it's especially convenient that the Nichols make the trip into Tucson for them. The Nichols buy some of their dry goods, such as spices and flours in bulk from the Coop to repackage and keep on the shelves for sale in smaller quantities. I've bought several such bags of spices and I believe the cost has been much better than the pricey cans and bottles of name brand spice companies. You can pick up a catalog at the Produce Wagon if you are interested in perusing the Coop offerings.

You can find plenty of "standard name brand" items at The Produce Wagon, but the Nichols also offer the ShurFine generic brand. I've tried a number of ShurFine offerings, such as their brownie mix and canned vegetables, and find them just as palatable as the standard name brands but usually less expensive. You can also pick up some healthy offerings from smaller canning companies in Pennsylvania, such as pickled three-bean salad or canned fruits.

Dalen is a rancher and farmer who moved his family here from S.W. Missouri in 1993 to raise hogs and later grow corn. He and Sheri have three children. Their son, Justin, contributed considerably in the transformation of the old Rancho Grando building into its new incarnation as The Produce Wagon full-line grocery store. Justin now works at the new dairy in Kansas Settlement as a Veterinary Assistant.

Audrey and Mendi, the Nichols' daughters both work at the store and are always friendly and eager to help customers find what they need.

Another individual who has played a key role in the operation of The Produce Wagon is James Schmidt. James worked with the Nichols for several months to get the building ready for business. He now works full time at the store and his sister, Julie works part time.

Other part time employees include Carolee Schmidt, cousin of James and Julie, and Laura Koeky.

On August 2, 2004, The Produce Wagon celebrated its first year in its retail store location. Over that year the number of products increased considerably. Extra refrigerator units were installed and the number of shelves were increased in the aisles. Dalen plans to keep the expansion of the store in line with the expansion and needs of the community while continuing to keep prices as low as possible. To that end, if you have a regular need for an item that The Produce Wagon does not currently stock, bring it to their attention and they will try toadd it to their regular inventory.