Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

July 20, 2012

Homegrown goodness

TAHLEQUAH — Burgess Market has sold locally-grown fruits and vegetables in Tahlequah for 64 years.

When current owner Rhoda Burgess married into the family, she married into the family business, too. In the early years of the market, it was open only during the summer.

Burgess Market has been in the same location since Rhoda’s father-in-law, Ben, started the business back in 1948. Every spring, they’d open and continue to sell produce until crops were finished in the fall.

“The market started the year by bringing in the first crops from the garden that were ready – wild onions and watercress,” Rhoda said. “The market sold what was coming up in their garden.”

Her in-laws grew a lot of produce sold at the market. Rhoda said her husband, Bill, drove a truck and hauled vegetables up from Texas throughout the summer months, as well.

“They also bought produce from local people who would bring in their bushel or peck of what-have-you; then they would sell it to the local people,” Rhoda said. “A lot of people grew strawberries and brought them down here.”

She said the locals would sometimes barter, trading tomatoes for a watermelon, and things like that. Back then, the Burgesses would also trade for eggs and cream and would sell those to the dairy store in town.

“Bartering is what a lot of people did back then,” she said.

When Burgess Market first opened, it was considered to be out of the city limits. There was no building, only a shed in an open field. The land across the street from the business, on what is now Muskogee Avenue, was nothing but dirt.

“My husband parked the trucks there,” said Rhoda.

The building that currently houses the family market was built in 1965. Ben, founder of the family business, died in 1968. Mary Burgess, Ben’s wife and Bill’s mother, also worked the family market. When Mary’s husband died, her son Bill was already working the family market, so he was there to help his mother.

“She worked down here until she passed away, about 10 or 12 years after her husband died,” Rhoda said.

Bill’s two brothers and a sister also worked at the family market while growing up.

“Bill’s brothers and sister all worked here until they finished school and went into other professions,” said Rhoda.

In 2000, Bill Burgess past away, but Rhoda continues to run the family business.

She was a student at Northeastern State University when she met her husband. She was visiting the market to buy a watermelon, and he helped her with her purchase.

“He just about swept me off my feet. He was the most well-mannered and respectful person I’ve ever met,” Rhoda said, speaking of her late husband.

They dated a year before they married in 1968.

Rhoda became a school teacher, but worked summers at the market with Bill.

“When I had my daughter, Gayla, I started working here full-time,” Rhoda said. “All Burgess kids worked and helped down here.”

Her daughter still helps with canning and preserving what is grown in their garden.

“We hardly ever buy vegetables,” Rhoda said. “We can and freeze what we grow. If we want something, we already have it in the jar.”

Rhoda said the market is still an old-time store. There are chairs for people to sit on and visit among themselves. The building used to have a wood stove in the middle of it.

“Old men used to come in and sit around it, telling their stories,” Rhoda said. “I have had people come in and ask if this was still Burgess Market. They tell me they had come here as children. I like being down here, working here, seeing the people who come in.”

Today, Burgess Market is for sale. According to Rhoda, a few people have expressed interest in buying the place.

“If I had good health, I wouldn’t sell it,” said Rhoda.

But for now, she is keeping the tradition alive and still working the family market, selling fresh fruits and vegetables to local residents.

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