June 13, 2018
When customers visit Mountain View Orchards in Jemison, they’re not simply purchasing ripe-as-it-gets, just-picked Chilton County peaches.
They’re experiencing a homier way of life — full of porch-sitting, chatting and nibbling on fruit turnovers, milkshakes and smoothies.
“Our main goal is to get customers the best quality fruit at the best possible price,” said Andy Millard, who owns the 45-acre orchard with father-in-law Steve Wilson. “People don’t sit on the front porch anymore. But when they come to the farm, they sit down and relax for 30 minutes. They’ll buy fruit and eat it while they talk to us.”
Wilson started working on the farm in 1983 after stints with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Federal Land Bank. In 1992, Millard joined the farm full time after marrying Wilson’s daughter, Christy.
Following years selling produce off Interstate 65 in Clanton, the family returned to its roots marketing peaches, apples and strawberries straight to customers.
“Fruit develops its sugar content the longer it’s on the tree,” said Wilson, 71. “If we can leave the fruit on the tree two more days, it has a sweeter taste and better color.”
Gala, golden prince and 13 other peach varieties ripen as the orchard’s May-September peach season progresses, while strawberries fill in the spring, and apple production picks up from late July through October.
“When it comes to our fruit, I’m our No. 1 customer,” Wilson said. “I probably eat 10 peaches a day. We can eat year-round the fruit we grow here.”
The Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association’s (AFVGA) Mac Higginbotham said Chilton County is synonymous with peaches, but bears a bounty of additional produce, as do other counties across the state.
“Alabama’s diverse geography allows for a long growing season for fruits and vegetables,” said Higginbotham, AFVGA’s executive director. “Farmers markets and roadside stands are a staple in communities. There’s nothing better than feeding your family Alabama-grown, farm-fresh foods.”
Mountain View Orchards is family centric, from a small petting zoo for kids to a pavilion where groups gather.
The whole family pitches in, too, with Millard’s daughters Mabrey, Francesca and Ava Claire working the fields, retail store and Café Mountain View, a food truck rolling out pastries and snacks using farm-fresh fruit.
“The customers have kind of grown up with our girls,” Millard said. “They’re like part of our family.”
The farmers said they’re thankful for a good crop, a blessing after limited chill hours and a late freeze destroyed peach crops across the Southeast in 2017.
Despite the long hours and tough seasons, Wilson said he’d pick farming every time.
“We partner with God in creation,” Wilson said. “We get to see his glory every day.”
Farm store hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Café Mountain View opens at 9 a.m.
To learn more, visit MountainViewOrchards.com or like Mountain View Orchards on Facebook.