John Zortman knows what a real tomato should taste like. Several years ago when he was freshly retired and living in Colorado, he searched 26 grocery stores in a 90-mile stretch but wasn’t happy with what he found.
“Somebody had to have a ‘real’ tomato — vine raised, grown in dirt, tastes like a real tomato — but I couldn’t find one,” he said.
He reached out to vegetable growers associations, and about 10 calls later he connected with an Amish man in Missouri who told him to come on over to find what he was looking for.
“I got in the car and drove all night. By golly, he had some real tomatoes. I bought 10-12 cases,” Zortman said. “Came home, sat down on the corner in Boulder, Colorado, and sold tomatoes. I got kind of crazy about it.”
As it turned out, the man in Missouri knew Zortman’s grandfather, who was also Amish. Zortman was raised Amish in Iowa until he was about 7 years old, and then he worked with many Amish over the years.
Zortman knew he had a good thing going with these fresh tomatoes, so he started transporting more tomatoes plus other kinds of produce from Missouri and selling it in Colorado regularly.
“It really took off,” he said.
Eventually he moved to Goodyear and got married, but his produce venture didn’t stop. He connected with local growers and even grew some of his own produce. And then he realized he had hit a nerve, because he couldn’t grow produce fast enough to meet his loyal customer base’s demand.
Named John’s Amish Country, his venture offers a variety of produce. Some is organic and some is conventional, but all is grown in what Zortman believes is the right way to grow it.
“Really the problem with store-bought stuff, I don’t call it real food. It’s so sad. I’m bringing out real food for real people,” he said.
The now 70-year-old sources produce from several growers, including ones in Colorado, Los Angeles, Phoenix and, of course, Amish country.
From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays he and his business partner, John McClendon of McClendon’s Select Produce, sell at a stand at Uptown Farmers Market. They’re located on the northeast parking lot, just east of the Bethany Home Road entrance to the North Phoenix Baptist Church, 5757 N. Central Avenue.
When the market ends, Zortman brings the leftovers to Goodyear to sell at a discount. He calls it his Sunday Sell-Down market, which is 7 to 11 a.m. Sundays at 1130 N. 186th Drive, off Perryville Road. Customers are encouraged to come early for the best selection, as products sell quickly. Prices start at 30% off and discounts grow through the morning. For updates, visit John’s Amish Country on Facebook.
One of Zortman’s regular Sunday customers is Barbara D’Elia O’Connell, who loves the variety.
She takes a salad to work every day, so she looks for lettuces, radishes, red onions and anything else that looks appetizing. She also purchases oranges, apples, peaches and strawberries.
“I recently had major medical issues, so now I am limited with what I can eat,” she said.
“I go to his market first thing Sunday morning, and sometimes I’ll go back later.”
It helps that the market is so close to her house. Besides the produce, she also appreciates Zortman’s knowledge of food and where his produce comes from.
“His produce is awesome. It’s delicious. It’s just not like the food in the grocery stores,” she said.