Apronomics: 8.26.20

In 1884, Valentine and Johanna Schweiger started selling produce grown on their 7-acre truck farm at 4049 Neosho St. Now four generations and 136 years later, Schweiger’s Produce is a mainstay at the Soulard Farmers Market. It is currently run by Scott Schweiger and his wife, Christi, who took over for his father, David “Buzzy” Schweiger, after more than 60 years as a vendor. “My dad had a big heart and would sacrifice everything for his kids or even a stranger,” he says. “I learned a lot from him.”

The youngest of seven children, Scott didn’t always know that he would be the one to take over the family business. “I’ve always been artsy and enjoyed painting and sculpting,” he notes. “But my dad had my siblings and I run smaller stands when we were teenagers, and I took to it like a duck to water. I felt comfortable dealing with the public, and I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that came with making my stand better and keeping customers happy.”

Prior to working his own stand, Scott went to the market on Saturdays with his father. “Before we were old enough to work, my youngest brother and I used to tag along with my dad as he went through produce row,” he recalls. “It was like an adventure. As he paid bills, he’d put money in his pockets and would sometimes drop dollars. We’d get to keep anything that fell.” Another memorable part of the old days was just how cold the year-round market could get in the winter. “We only had salamander heaters filled with kerosene, and if you moved three feet away, you’d start freezing immediately” he explains. “If you opened a soda, it would freeze over.” 

The time spent working at the market with his family taught Scott the importance of hard work. Watching others, he also learned that sometimes it pays to work smarter as well. “We say that people get carried out of Soulard feet first because they spend their entire lives working down here,” he notes. “There’s no shame in working hard, but you also need to figure out how to do it while still being able to enjoy other aspects of your life.”

When Scott took over Schweiger’s Produce, he started making changes to work smarter. A major one was diversifying his products. He introduced more tropical produce varieties not normally found at the market, such as lychee, ramatan and dragon fruit. “I enjoy educating my customers about these fruits and letting them sample them,” he says. “I love homegrown veggies like tomatoes and watermelon, but I’m really proud of the unique variety we offer.” The stand also is known for its candy. “We work with two candy kitchens and have created signature items that people love,” he explains. “Some people drive three hours just to get our candy.”

According to Scott, the best thing about working at the market is getting to interact with people. Respect for all customers, regardless of background, is another lesson that he learned working alongside his father. While the Soulard Farmers Market serves a diverse population today, in the past, it was seen as a cheap alternative to grocery stores, and he notes that many of Schweiger’s customers were minorities and immigrants. “It was always important to my dad to treat everyone well,” he says. “As he would put it, for a lot of customers, visiting the market was the only time all day long when they got treated with respect. I carried that with me through my own life.”

Schweiger’s Produce has continued to operate throughout the pandemic. “I’ve learned that patience and understanding are worth their weight in gold,” he says. “Some of the safety restrictions have hurt business, but we’ve seen support from the community.” He’s also grateful for the help of his business partner. “Christi is pivotal to running things,” he notes. “I do most of the buying, loading and setting up, and she concentrates on selling and dealing with customers. I couldn’t operate without her. We’ve visited farmers markets around the county and are passionate about educating ourselves. We want to improve things, not just for our stand but all of Soulard.”

Photo: Suzy Gorman