Evan John Riggin — Ev to his friends, E.J. on the business cards he hands out to shoppers at the Coit Road Market — is 78. Every Saturday from August through October, he arrives in East Cleveland at 5:30 a.m. in a well-used pickup truck loaded with apples he grows in Willoughby Hills, on land his father and grandfather farmed before him.
He first started coming to the market as a boy in 1941. “In the ’50s and ’60s, it was so busy they needed a policeman to direct traffic,” he recalls. “The market aisles were packed. We had more farmers back then, too, and the competition to sell there was fierce.”
People’s shopping habits have changed along with the neighborhood, and Coit Road is not quite the bustling place it once was. But his Golden Delicious, Melrose, Cortland and Northern Spy apples are in such demand that Riggin often sells out in the first hour.
“The early bird,” he says, “really does catch the worm. For the best selection, you’ve got to be here when the market opens." Riggin harvests 20 varieties of apples, using a cherry picker to reach them because the trees have grown so tall over the years. Good thing, too, since it protects the ripening fruit from the gangs of hungry deer that often wander through his 10-acre orchard.
Except for a few years in the Navy, four more at college and a two-year stint as a restaurant manager, Riggin has been working this scenic spread overlooking the Chagrin River his entire adult life. “This is a pretty place,” says the lean, lanky guy.
“The name, Pleasant Valley Farm, says it all. I love it here, and I plan to stay and farm it as long as I’m able.”