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Highway peach stands pleased with crops

If patrons question whether or not a Horn of Plenty peach is a true Chilton County peach, they can rest assured. The store literally sits just over the county line in Autauga County, but the orchard where the peaches grow are on the other side. Regardless of where you buy, you can look just a few yards away and see for yourself. That’s a Chilton County peach.

Owned and operated by Jerry and Peggy Harrison, Horn of Plenty is one of five peach stands on US Highway 82, a prime stretch where vendors sell to daily travelers and residents who know where to get the good stuff.

Farthest east on US-82, it’s accompanied by Jimmie’s Peaches, Paw Paw’s Peaches, Lawley’s Chilton County Peaches and Buddy Jones Fruit Stand.

Tim Jones, owner of the Buddy Jones Fruit Stand, said business started out pretty slow when he opened April 1, but things are quickly picking up. He only hopes the Gulf oil spill’s effect on tourism doesn’t have as large an impact on his business.

If patrons question whether or not a Horn of Plenty peach is a true Chilton County peach, they can rest assured. The store literally sits just over the county line in Autauga County, but the orchard where the peaches grow are on the other side. Regardless of where you buy, you can look just a few years away and see for yourself. That’s a Chilton County peach.

“A lot of our customers are going back and forth from the beach on vacation,” Jones said. “That’s probably going to hurt us.”

But he knows if they continue to grow a fine product and remain loyal to their customers, they’ll see repeat business from those who travel from Tuscaloosa or other states like Mississippi.

“If you’re nice to them, they’ll come back,” he said. “Chilton County peaches have a reputation. People are going to get the peaches wherever they have to go.”

Between him and his father, Buddy, the store has been active for roughly 20 years. He receives daily help from his daughter, Allison, who happily sells produce alongside Jones’ sister-in-law, Marcia Elkins. His business partner, Marvin Green of Isabella, farms the peaches and will represent the stand during the upcoming Peach Festival.

Jones is particularly proud of his service on US-82 as well as sharing it with his fellow peach vendors, all of whom he said he respects and supports.

“We’re not in competition over here,” he said. “We’re all just out selling our product. I know what they go through to sell it. It’s not easy.”

He said if he is ever low on produce, his “competitors,” Jimmie and Jerry Harrison will re-supply him to help out.

“The Harrisons are unbelievable,” he said. “They’re just really, really good people. They will step in and help me out any way they can.”

Jimmie Harrison started selling peaches off of his father’s truck in the early 1950s. He’s sold peaches from the exact spot, about 3 miles west of his brother, for nearly 60 years.

He runs a regular family business that allows his wife, children and grandkids to surround him just about every day.

So far, he’s pleased with his crop of peaches, which are considerably large for this early in the season.

“This is probably the best crop we’ve had since 1994,” Harrison, clad in overalls and a straw hat, said. “We’ve got some beautiful fruit with a good taste and size to it.”

His orchard sits directly next to the stand, as four dogs run around eating unused peaches that fall from the trees. They’re open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Harrison, a Maplesville resident and native, said he sees customers from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas.

He’s always pleased this time of year when his and his family’s hard work finally pays off. Last year’s troubled economy sent his profits down between 8-10 percent from the previous year. He said business has already picked up a little bit this year.

His brother Jerry’s stand, Horn of Plenty, opened in 1962 when his wife Peggy’s father, Newton Chandler, established it. When Chandler died, Harrison stepped in and began farming and selling with his wife. They opened nearly two weeks ago and see solid traffic on the weekends, mostly from Mississippi travelers headed to the beach.

Harrison said the recent rainfall hasn’t helped the crops, but they’re looking solid overall.

Having worked with peaches for nearly 65 years in his family, he hasn’t gotten tired of it.

“You have to love it to stay with it,” he said. “You have to stay with it as long as you can.”

Harrison also tends to do quite well at Peach Fest competitions, placing first on a number of occasions. His customers and neighbors often tell him his peaches taste better than any others in the county.

They also grow nectarines and plums and sell tomatoes, watermelons and cantaloupes they purchase from markets.

Also proud of this season’s crops is E.L. Buddy Lawley, owner of Lawley’s Chilton County Peaches. He opened a fruit stand on US-82 back in the 1950s after he set up a peach orchard in 1949 after serving in the military. He also farms tomatoes, squash, watermelons, corn and beans, among other produce, which he said is selling more than the peaches right now.

“I can’t keep enough produce out here,” said the Maplesville native. “You name it, we’re picking it.”

Lawley, 86, can’t wait for that peak peach season in late June, though.

“The crops have been perfect,” he said. “This is the best crop year I believe I’ve ever seen. Everybody’s waiting on clear-seeded peaches. We’re selling a good many, but nothing like we will a little later when the clear seeds start.”

He works closely with his children and also proudly lets his grandchildren, Colby and Noah Chambers, help out all summer.

Just a mile or two down the highway is Paw Paw’s Peaches, where new employee Kris Atcheson recently began her first year selling peaches. Owned by William “Tinker” Lenoir of Maplesville, the stand sells peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, syrup and homemade jam from Lenior’s wife.

Where nearly every peach stand owner agrees is on the quality of this year’s crops, which arrived later than usual. But it seems the wait will be worth it for customers.

“Our crop is wonderful,” Tim Jones said. “They’re a lot better than in previous years. Storms, cold weather and droughts got us lately, and we got too much water other times. But this year is just about perfect.”