Mike Hardwick retired for about a year. Then he came back and launched his fifth — and largest — nursery-related business, this one in Early.

“I’m calling this a revived business venture. I thought I wanted to retire, but I didn’t like it. So here I am again,” the 67-year-old Hardwick said Saturday at the grand opening of Hardwicks Farmers Market South, located just north of Heartland Mall on U.S. Highway 183 in Early.

“I retired, but you can only fish for so long. I really enjoy being around people. This is what I do and what I love,” he added, pointing toward the growing number of customers Saturday morning.

Hardwick, who grew up in May, was a peanut farmer, but once that industry moved to West Texas, he began in the nursery business by growing and selling plants to Sliger’s Market in Brownwood. He launched his first nursery business 23 years ago in Mineral Wells. At one time, he was operating four such businesses — one each in Mineral Wells, Eastland, Rising Star and Cross Plains.

Currently, he still operates Hardwicks Farmers Market in Cross Plains, which is why he’s calling the Early location Hardwicks Farmers Market South. The Early location opened in January, three months ahead of Saturday’s grand opening.

“Of the five locations we’ve launched, this is the largest. Oh, it’s overwhelming right now, but I’m enjoying every minute of it,” Hardwick said.

“God created us to be servants, to serve one another. In retirement, I wasn’t serving anyone. I was just a leech on society. I’m in this business to serve.

“I’m looking for years of service to what I like to call the Brownwood/Early metropolitan area. We don’t just serve Brownwood and Early. We serve the surrounding area — May, Rising Star, Zephyr, Blanket, Bangs, Goldthwaite and so on,” Hardwick said.

Part of that service during Saturday’s grand opening was partnering with Good Samaritan Ministries of Brownwood. With a donation of three canned goods that went to Good Samaritan, Hardwicks’ customers could participate in a dunking booth and seek to dunk local personalities into a large barrel of water.

Larry Hart, national director for Buckmasters American Deer Foundation, also was present Saturday as a board member of the Early Chamber of Commerce — and a lifelong friend to Hardwick. Buckmasters annually participates in multiple food, hunting and community service projects in Brown County.

“I’m picky. We want to help Good Samaritan Ministries and Buckmasters because they are nonprofit groups,” Hardwick said. “Good Samaritan is like we are in that they don’t only serve Brownwood and Early. They serve the surrounding area, too. They’re a Christian-based organization, and that’s why we chose them.”

Hardwick already owned the 45-acre plot of land where his new business has opened. After Hometown Market, the successor to Sliger’s Market, closed last fall, Hardwick felt there was a need for a large, full-service nursery in Brownwood. Members of the Sliger family reopened Sliger’s Market last month.

“I just felt like this market needed what we do,” Hardwick said. “We’ve launched five businesses, but this is the first time we researched the market before we made a decision. We felt like this was the kind of business the market wanted.

“We lay grass, lay sod, plant trees. We help any way we can with home gardening and lawns. We’re a full-service nursery.”

Hardwicks starts with plants, flowers, potting soil, decorative outdoor planting pots, trees, but also includes accessories and wood furniture for outdoor porch and patio areas. An indoor area offers a variety of pickled vegetables. Hardwick said the location eventually will include its own produce — hence the Farmers Market name — along with furniture and clothing.

He even showed an area he plans for a corn maze, which have become popular tourist attractions in North America. Tall corn is grown, rows are cut in the cornfield, and kids enter the maze and try to find their way out again.