Tater Man a Chiefland legend

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By Claude Lewis

He is not a celebrity or politician, but he has to be one of the most well-known people around north Levy County. Most everyone driving on U.S. 19 just north of Chiefland has seen him - the "Tater Man" - on Fridays and Saturdays on the roadside.

Some stop to buy farm-fresh potatoes and other produce. Others stop by just to chat. A honk of the horn will suffice for others.

Friendly Bobby "Tater Man" Chesser smiles and waves back.

"I'm a people person," he said. "Look for the blue truck and the big umbrella."

Chesser has been selling Florida-grown potatoes and vegetables for 20 years now.

"When I first started doing this, people didn't know my name," he said. "Everybody started calling me the tater man."

The 66-year-old Chesser once was a farmer himself. He got out of that line and went to work for the City of Gainesville, retiring a couple of years ago from his job as fleet parts manager.

Coming out to the serenity of Levy County on weekends has always been a pleasant getaway for Chesser.

"There's more country folks out here than Alachua," he said. "Highway 19 is the place to be. I meet folks from all over. Sometimes people just sit down and talk. The weather, sports. Sometimes they tell me their struggles. I tell them to keep fighting. I'm just doing God's work."

The draw is potatoes. Chesser still has his farming connections. In the spring, he peddles Hastings potatoes - a red bliss variety - $15 for a 50-pound bag.

"Supermarket potatoes are bagged and put in coolers," he said. "I get mine before they go into the cooler."

His price comes out to 30 cents a pound - a lot less than major supermarkets.

"The tri-county (Levy, Dixie, Gilchrist) area supports the tater business," Chesser said. "I try to hold down prices for the senior citizens. The price of gas is hurting folks."

Chesser sells his Hastings potatoes through June. Then he takes off a couple of months before reappearing along U.S. 19 in September.

"It's sweet potato season," he explained. "I get them from up around Live Oak."

Besides potatoes, Chesser can be found with veggies like vidalia onions, squash or pole beans depending on the time of year.

Chesser is big on church, family and the Gators.

He belongs to the Bell Church of God. His wife of 38 years - Sandra - is secretary at Alachua Baptist. He has three grown children - Lynn, Cindy and Eric. Two are University grads. All are married and there are three grandchildren so far.

Chesser considers it all a blessing - from people down to the taters.

And likewise, Chiefland is blessed with a person like Bobby "Tater Man" Chesser around.