Local peach farmer has enjoyed years in the field

Published 6:08 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Raymond Hudman was a college basketball prospect, served in the army and has worked for 31 years as the district fire chief.

But Hudman decided to settle down and work the land, and he has never regretted his career choice as a peach farmer.

“I’ve always liked to farm,” Hudman said. “I’ve always liked farm equipment. It’s just second nature.”

Hudman grew up on a small farm, eighth of 11 children, in Chilton County.

“There was enough of us that we could pick a bale of cotton a day,” Hudman said.

In 1952, with two sisters and a brother still at home, Hudman was drafted into the army, where he served four months. Before leaving, Hudman had to sell his mules, and when he returned, he was too poor to buy them back.

So Hudman ended up in Montgomery, working for the city fire department.

While working in Montgomery, Hudman met his wife-to-be, Ethel Cleckler, on a trip back to Clanton, and the two were married July 8, 1954.

When Hudman first worked for the Montgomery Fire Department, firefighters had to live nearby but eventually were permitted to live 50 miles from the city, allowing the Hudmans to return to Chilton County in 1970.

Ethel had also grown up on a farm, the daughter of a tomato and bean farmer.

The Hudmans lived in a trailer on Ethel’s father’s farm upon returning to the area.

They began working in a neighbor’s peach orchard and eventually decided to set out their own small orchard.

Eventually, the Hudmans were able to buy a nearby farm from neighbor Alton Deloach, who also financed it. He did not charge interest but told Hudman to pay the principal and just pay what he could each year after. It took Hudman three years to pay off the farm.

Sometimes, farming is unpredictable, but Hudman said it provides him with a lot of freedom.

“I make it to where I have a lot of free time,” Hudman said.

Hudman’s practice is to keep ahead of the work, so he can do it at his own pace.

Hudman has seen peach seasons come and go and has learned much about the fruit.

Each peach season varies a bit from the last, but Hudman has been in the business long enough to notice long-term trends.

Hudman said the biggest change he has seen in peach farming over the years is in marketing.

“Vendors don’t go to market anymore,” Hudman said. “A lot of your stores go directly to the farmer.”

Hudman said this process is favorable for the stores, as well as the large peach farms, but has hurt the small farmer, including himself.

“We’re just a family-oriented operation,” Hudman said.

Hudman has spent decades farming peaches, so he knows a lot about them–including the best way to eat a peach.

“Go to the tree and eat it right off the tree,” Hudman said. “That’s the only way I’ll eat a peach.”