Charles and Brenda Downs opened their roadside stand along Highway 150 on Thanksgiving Day 2008. Down's Produce offers a variety of local produce, homemade jams and Iowa wine. They welcome customers seven days a week during the growing season (May - October).
What you might not know by looking at it, is that this roadside stand has a special history - one that owner Charles Downs is proud to share. The stand and nearby home were originally built by a man named Atrus Stepp. Atrus, or "Ade" as friends called him, is a local legend. For nearly seventy years the roadside stand was known as the Stepp's Melon Stand, easily identified by iconic tanks painted to look like watermelons and cantaloupes.
Atrus was an enterprising African American man who grew his business from 10 acres of land in the 1930s to over 120 acres by 1990. He expanded his operation to sell at seven stand locations and several regional grocery stores during his lifetime. Lottie Stepp, Atrus's wife, processed orders and managed the complex routing and distribution system.
Charles says that customers sometimes share stories and reminisce about how they worked as youngsters in Atrus's melon fields. Atrus had a larger than life personality and tenacious work ethic. He reportedly wore long johns all year round and had enough pep in his step to stay several rows ahead of his workers even into his later years.
Atrus and Lottie are buried in a small cemetery less than a mile south from the roadside stand.
Charles and Brenda honor the history of Atrus and Lottie Stepp and continue the tradition of quality local fare and friendly, hardworking service.
You can learn more about the historic Stepp's Melon Stand and see the original watermelon and cantaloupe painted signs at the Fayette County Tourism office in Fayette and at the Seed Savers Exchange north of Decorah.