Todd’s Produce back open after year hiatus

Published 3:49 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2024

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

“If you are good to your peaches, they will be good to you.”

Last March, Todd’s Produce faced its biggest loss in its 39 years of operation, but the farm is back this year with a huge crop and ready to put the past behind them.

Hal and Dordie Hayes started Todd’s Produce, named after their son, as a restaurant in the building right off Interstate 65 where the current Waffle House is. They set up a fruit stand in the parking lot and sold peaches they purchased from local farmers. Eventually, the couple believed they could start growing their own peaches, and they bought some land by their house and started planting peach trees.

The orchard grew fast, and after Waffle House purchased the restaurant building, the couple built a building right beside their newly sold one. It quickly grew as well from a fruit stand into a homemade ice cream bar, a gift shop, a peach basket factory, and expansions were made. Hayes said that each of the 39 years before 2023, Todd’s Produce saw growth each year.

Todd’s is open seasonally during the summer, which fit perfectly with Hayes’ 25-year tenure as a teacher at Verbena High School, allowing her to work at Todd’s during the summer months away from school. She ventured into staying open longer than the summer months, but she quickly found out the seasonal approach was the best route for the business.

All of this led to March 2023, when devastation hit the farm.

“I was here 39 years until the biggest loss we ever had,” Hayes said. “I missed my people, I missed our talks here, I missed my help and I have a lot of people that come by during the summer that have known me since Todd was little.”

A deep freeze and sub 20-degree weather swept into Chilton County and almost completely wiped out the peach crop in the county. The Hayes’ peach orchard in the Enterprise community was in an area where the deep freeze was a bit harsher based off of elevation, temperatures, moisture and other weather factors.

Hayes said the crop could have afforded possibly one night of the deep freeze, but three consecutive nights like that was catastrophic.

“What really hurt us was three nights in a row of, not just freezing, but way below freezing,” Hayes said. “We had little peaches hanging off the tree where they were ice balls. So, two days after the freeze, they looked like raisins hanging off our trees. We were fortunate it did not kill the entire tree itself.”

The farm lost their entire peach crop, as well as other crops like plums, blueberries, strawberries and more. Everything the farm grew was killed. Without a crop to sell, Hayes rented the building to another business and was away from Todd’s Produce the entire summer.

The loss affected numerous things such as the field assistants that are hired each year to help with the crop were not hired, and the farmers around Alabama that get peaches from Todd’s could not get peaches. It caused loss across many different angles, way deeper than just losing a fruit on a tree.

Now in 2024, Hayes reopened Todd’s Produce for the first time in two years the first week of April. She redecorated and repainted the ice cream parlor a ‘peach cloud’ color, and said she is using this year to get things going again.

“We have had just a few freezes and were hoping it did not get down too low, but it was kind of perfect,” Hayes said. “We were really blessed this year. A lot of people have come back, and they say nice things and we get caught up on things, I really appreciate them. We are just proud to be here.”

Hal Hayes said in the early spring that the farm was poised for a large crop, and the further along the growing process went, the larger the crop he believed would come. Todd’s is already seeing its expected large crop as shelves are stocked with fresh cut peaches and other fruits, and will be throughout the summer.