Summer produce season is in full swing across Alabama, providing fresh fruits and vegetables for consumers.
For Mobile County’s Brian Keller, who once grew only landscape trees, expanding his farm to include U-pick produce changed his attitude.
“When the housing market crashed, we began looking for some diversification from the tree business,” said Keller, who is on the Alabama Farmers Federation State Horticulture Committee. “We started out small about 10 years ago, and business has been good. We figured no matter how bad the economy gets, everybody has to eat.”
Keller’s Oak Hill Produce on Grand Bay Wilmer Road features watermelons, cantaloupes, strawberries, blueberries and hundreds of rows of vegetables. Customers visit the roadside stand three miles north of Interstate 10 for sweet corn, squash, okra, beans, peppers and almost everything else grown in Alabama.
“We chose the U-pick route because that takes some of the labor off of us,” Keller said. “A family can get a lot of good vegetables at a very good price without having to plant their own garden. People love to bring their children, too.”
Oak Hill Produce patrons take to the fields armed with buckets. Okra, strawberries and blueberries are sold by the gallon; all other produce is sold by 5-gallon buckets.
“To me, this is very rewarding,” Keller said as he watched a group of small children race to pick some of the season’s first blueberries. “I feel like our farm is contributing something to society on a fundamental level.”
For Jeremy Calvert, the sight of fresh produce with its shades of red, green and yellow, combined with a sweet fragrance cannot be replicated in a grocery store.
Calvert grows over 20 fresh fruits and vegetables at his Cullman County farm. He sells produce at a retail store in Dodge City and local farmers markets.
“Our customers want to buy from the person who grew what they’re buying,” said Calvert. “We can produce a product with better taste than grocery stores. They can’t compete with our ability to pick and sell something within a matter of hours.”
Although Keller still enjoys growing trees to enhance landscapes, he said vegetables bring their own reward.
“Trees are beautiful,” he said, “but you can’t eat a tree.”
For a list of farmers markets, roadside stands and U-pick farms, visit BuyLocalAlabama.com.