Vacationers headed for a weekend of fun on the water often stop at John Neighbors’ roadside stand to stock up on fresh citrus fruit.
But Neighbors Farm isn’t anywhere near the Gulf Coast, where people expect to find satsuma and lemon trees. It’s in Coosa County off Alabama Highway 259, just 2 miles from Lake Martin.
“On Friday afternoons, there’s all kinds of traffic on this road,” Neighbors said with a smile. “They might drive past, but if they see my truck, they turn around and come back. They usually want to do a little sampling. I always oblige because if they sample something, they’re hooked.”
The farm produces fruit almost year-round with peaches in late spring, blueberries in summer, persimmons and apples in early fall, and satsumas and lemons as winter approaches.
“We have U-Pick blueberries, and there’s nothing more enjoyable to this old man than to see children picking the prettiest blueberries out there and cramming them in their mouths,” he said.
The 88-year-old lives in Tallapoosa County and works land that’s been in his family almost 100 years. Neighbors said it was a two-mule farm when he grew up there, but he knew he wanted to change things. He decided on fruit and citrus trees after a trip to the Chilton Research and Extension Center in Thorsby.
Most citrus trees are suited for warm, subtropical climates of Florida, Texas, California and south Alabama. To protect his trees from frost, which happens regularly during Coosa County winters, Neighbors created a high tunnel system around the satsuma and lemon trees.
Along with transforming the family farm, Neighbors has a strong history of serving the Alabama Farmers Federation. He was District 7 director from 2001 to 2006 and is finishing nine years of service on the State Horticulture Committee.
“I don’t know of a better organization other than my church that I enjoy participating in,” Neighbors said.
While farming wasn’t always his profession — Neighbors is a retired rural letter carrier — it’s always been his passion, and is one he hopes to pass on to the next generation. His son, Al, and daughter-in-law Jan help out at the farm.
“My dad’s done a lot down here with citrus, and I’m just proud to be a part of it,” Al said.
The father-son team enjoys farm work, but they disagree on their favorite fruit. Neighbors prefers satsumas, while Al goes for lemons.
“I’ll peel and eat a lemon the way others eat an orange,” Al said. “Pretty much all the citrus I get is from the farm; we don’t buy much from the grocery store.”
Produce grown at Neighbors Farm is sold (or sampled) at the roadside stand. And as long as he’s able to get out to the farm in his white truck with the CITRUS ag tag, Neighbors said he hopes passing drivers will stop by for a visit and taste test.
“There’s nothing more relaxing than working among the trees,” Neighbors said. “And when it furnishes you with a good, sweet piece of fruit, you just ask ‘Oh, Lord. How did you do it?’ And I always give credit to the Lord, because He’s the one that really did it.”