Before Me & McGee Market was a flourishing farmers market featuring fresh produce, local pastured-raised meats and a vast assortment of artisanal goods, it was a simple pecan stand set up along the road at the end of Larry and Debbie McGee’s driveway off Highway 70 in North Little Rock. Nine large pecan trees shade the McGee’s property, and in 2011, Debbie McGee, a retired food service worker, devised a plan to make use of the abundant supply of pecans.
“My grandma wanted to gather pecans, shell them and send my grandpa down the road to set up and sell them,” said McGee’s grandson and operating partner Logan Duvall. His grandpa Larry McGee, a former salesman, didn’t think much of the idea at first. “He thought she was absolutely crazy,” Duvall said. Larry McGee realized there was something to it, Duvall said, after he made a couple hundred dollars selling pecans.
The initial stand sat down by the road until a hot day in July when Larry McGee hooked it up to a truck and pulled it back to the east side of the property under the shade of a pecan tree. The following year, the McGees put in a little garden and people started pulling in wondering what produce they had available. “So my mom suggested that they buy a little stand and start selling stuff. Everything else has just been organic, year-after-year growth,” Duvall said.
It was a hobby they loved and a way for the McGees to make a little extra money during retirement, Duvall said. In addition to the pecans and produce, the McGees started making jams and breads. Duvall’s mother, Neva Collier, got involved in the operation after Larry McGee was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Collier worked full time at Acxiom in Conway and would come down on the weekends to help out. As Larry’s disease progressed and with her mother Debbie by her husband’s side, Collier eventually left her job at Acxiom to be there for the McGees and run the stand with help from her daughter Ariel Newman.
Larry McGee died in September of 2016. Soon after, Duvall left his job as an emergency medical technician and real estate agent and relocated from Atkins (Pope County) to Central Arkansas to become an operating partner at Me & McGee Market alongside his grandmother Debbie McGee, mother Neva Collier and sister Ariel Newman.
“I just wanted to help the family transition from losing my grandpa to taking the next step with the business to make sure it took care of the family because it was my grandma’s retirement,” Duvall said.
The family started putting photos of the market on Facebook and interacting with people on social media.
“That started bringing in new people that weren’t just traveling up and down [Highway] 70,” Duvall said.
Me and McGee’s social media presence has continued to evolve, and Duvall is a familiar face to its followers and shoppers. He hosts regular video updates highlighting what’s in stock or new at the market and appears in high-quality production videos that feature local chefs and dieticians offering recipes or highlighting the health benefits of certain vegetables or diets. There are videos on juicing, kombucha, cryotherapy and the keto diet. They take educational field trips to visit the farms that supply the market with produce, honey or grass-fed beef. The videos are produced and edited by Patrick Green, an Emmy award-winner who produced content for lifestyle expert P. Allen Smith for the last decade.
Also relatively new to the market is “Lander’s Corner,” a contemporary blue shed stocked with a variety of health foods and supplements. In the summer of 2019, Duvall’s 5-year-old son Lander was diagnosed with cancer.
“He was diagnosed stage IV,” Duvall said. “So it started in his kidney and had gone to lymph nodes to his chest wall. Stage IV diagnosis for a kid that you didn’t think anything was wrong with. It was really a big jolt.”
In addition to Lander’s treatment at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, which involved chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, Duvall started researching beneficial diets for people and children fighting cancer.
“I just dove into the research of what I could do, you know. You just feel so helpless in that situation. There’s no real way to explain it; it’s just such a helpless, horrible feeling. So I wanted to figure out what I could control, and I knew that at least at a minimum I could control what he eats.”
When Duvall found something he was confident in, he’d order it and try it out. If it helped Lander and they loved it, he wanted to make it available for people visiting the market as well.
The foundation of their plan, Duvall said, was cutting out processed foods, sugar and dairy products and focusing on vegetables, along with some high-quality meats and fish rich with omega-3 fatty acids.
“When I’m working on all of this, it’s like this big web of interconnected things, and sometimes it’s really hard for anybody else to see how it’s related,” Duvall said. “But regenerative agriculture and raising animals properly that are grass-fed is a big deal from the health side of it, as well as from all the other[s]. Whether it’s for the environment or political reasons, it benefits everything.”
It’s for that reason, Duvall said, that he’s so passionate about building up farmers who are doing it right.
“That’s such a big part of what we do now because losing my grandpa to cancer, having a child that was diagnosed … So the diet, nutrition, supplements, you know, God, Children’s Hospital, all of it matter. So that’s a huge part of my focus is that constant research and creating awareness to share with people — not shove it down anybody’s throat — but just say, ‘These are some options if you want to try that have benefited us.’ ”
Within eight months of being diagnosed, Lander was cancer-free. He received clear scans in February of 2020. About a month later, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.
“We didn’t have any idea what to do,” Duvall said. “None of us did. I knew we had to protect the people that were immunocompromised, whether it was older [people] or my child. So we initially shut down and went to pick-up only.”
It didn’t go well. Without adequate staffing or a system in place to accommodate online ordering, Duvall said they had to make a decision to either shut down completely or open up.
“And so we opened up and it wasn’t even negotiable, wearing masks. It was the least we felt we could do.”
Still, there was a lot of pushback on the mask policy at the beginning.
“People were horrible,” he said. “And so I ended up making a couple different posts on Facebook about it and [there was] a lot of support, honestly. The mask policy was actually a big boost because at that time, we were one of the only ones that were requiring it and not backing down from it. I bet I kicked out 10 people right out of the gate. But that led to a couple news interviews and even getting picked up nationally. So that exposure led to some more ugliness, but it also boosted business too.
“My family was going to get taken care of, and I’d rather have a place for people to shop and feel safe than make money,” Duvall said.
In the early months of the pandemic, there was a lot of fear about even stepping inside the grocery store. A friend of mine mentioned to me back in the spring of 2020 that the only place she would shop is Me & McGee Market because it was outside and masks were required. Duvall said there were a lot of people who felt that way.
“And because of Lander’s story and me being so open, we have such a large percentage of people with cancer, people overcoming cancer and undergoing treatments that follow us, and we’re the only place they would go. So that was another reason why I was absolutely unwilling to waver on that.”
I went Christmas shopping twice at Me & McGee Market last winter. It became apparent almost immediately that I was in a friendly place. I was greeted by both Duvall and Collier, neither of whom I had met yet. When I was standing in line to check out, Duvall walked by and put some free toffee in my basket to go along with the fantastic sideboard cookies baked by Debbie.
Some new additions to Me & McGee Market for the 2021 season include partnering with chef Josh Smith of the Southern Standard food truck, which will be exclusively located at Me & McGee during the market’s open hours.
“Everything on the truck is sourced from things at the market,” Duvall said.
The meat is sourced from Hoien Farms in Atkins (Pope County) and Forevermost Farms in Rose Bud (White County). The bread is from Serenity Farm Bread in Leslie (Searcy County).
In addition, parking has been expanded and new scanners have been added that will help streamline checking out at the counters. Duvall has also been nominated for the 2021 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “Man of the Year” award, and hosts blood drives and fundraisers to benefit cancer research. There is an upcoming blood drive at the market on Friday, May 7.
“I want to be able to buy from locals, resell it and take the proceeds for the fundraising aspect of it, and I feel like more people win that way,” he said. “And the blood drives — Lander had to get blood after chemo just zapped him once and it was a big big deal. … We just want to help people, man.”
Duvall told me there’s a Maya Angelou quote on a board at the market that says, “People will forget what you say, people will forget what you do but people will never forget how you make them feel.’ ”
“That’s our whole philosophy,” Duvall said. “The sales and the other takes care of itself if you just take care of people and make them feel good.”
Check out Me & McGee’s Facebook page for market updates, inventory and educational videos.
Me and McGee Market
10409 Highway 70, North Little Rock
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thu.-Fri.; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.