Back in the day, North Carolina’s peach crop, concentrated mainly in the Sandhills area around Southern Pines and Pinehurst, used to be shipped up the East Coast. Those days are gone, but luckily for us, the peaches are not. By the way, if you think Georgia is the top peach provider in the South, you’d be misled by their impressive marketing machine. South Carolina actually takes that prize. We here in North Carolina don’t pay too much attention to all that because we have our own peaches to brag on.
Here are some peach orchards and farm stands from my guidebook “Farm Fresh North Carolina.” You can find local peaches at many farmers’ markets as well. A fun fact: The 2008 movie “The Secret Life of Bees” was partly filmed at Geraldine’s Peaches and Produce in Lumberton.
As times change, so do Johnson Farm’s sales locations. Known mostly for its peaches, the Sandhills farm store is now in its fourth location, prompted by the addition of Interstate 73/74 and the Highway 220 bypass. Run by Garrett and Barbara Johnson and in business since 1934, the farm grows thousands of peach trees, as well as produce, on about fifty acres. Inside the market, whose bins are filled with just-picked peaches from June to September, is a gift shop with local art, pottery, and peach preserves, jams, and other products made with Johnson Farm’s peaches. But the most popular feature is the snack stand, which sells homemade peach ice cream and peach dumplings, similar to turnovers. 1180 Highway 220 North, Rockingham (Montgomery County), 910-997-2920. Open May to December.
Peaches are to the Sandhills what apples are to Henderson County, and no other peach farm is as much an institution as Auman Orchard. It first flourished under the care of Clyde Auman, whose father started a small orchard in West End in the early 1900s. Clyde and his brothers expanded the orchards greatly, becoming some of the largest landowners in Moore County. During peach season, Clyde held court at the packing shed behind the family’s home, chatting up customers and doing business. His son Watts, now in his seventies, carries on the tradition of both farming and conversation. From his home on the farm, Watts greets customers new and old as they drop by to pick up their bags or bushels of just-picked peaches. Even for folks who have been coming here for more than fifty years, the scenery, including the open-air shed, hasn’t changed much. When asked if the orchard really is open on Sundays (most aren’t), Watts replied, “We’ve tried to close, but the doorbell just keeps ringing.” 3140 Highway 73, West End (Moore County), 910-673-4391. Open June to September.
Chappell Peaches and Apples
Fourth-generation farmer Ken Chappell is rare in the Sandhills in that he grows several varieties of apples as well as the more typical local offering of peaches. From the family’s basic farm stand along Highway 211 in Eagle Springs, Ken sells the fruits in season, as well as assorted vegetables and melons. In 2009 the farm added heirloom tomatoes to its mix. 672 Highway 211, Eagle Springs (Moore County), 910-673-1878 (works only during season), www.chappellpeaches.com. Open June to October.
From the day they open around Easter, Kalawi Farm’s stand and the adjacent Ben’s Homemade Ice Cream Shop stay busy. Art and Jan Williams started their peach orchard on family land in Eagle Springs in 1982 and added a stand in 1985. They grow about 5,000 peach trees on thirty acres, as well as row crops and produce, which also is for sale. Their thirty-five varieties of peaches are harvested through mid-September. Next to the stand under a grove of pine trees is an area with picnic tables for sitting and licking. The Williamses gave the farm its moniker using letters in the names of their children, Katie, Laura, and Will. When Ben came along several years later, he got the ice cream stand. 1515 Highway 211, Eagle Springs (Moore County), 910-673-5996. Open April to November.
Geraldine’s Peaches and Produce
Though the Sandhills are known for their peaches, a Lumberton farmer is proving that the lowlands of Robeson County are ripe to grow the fruit as well. Roy Herring and his wife, Geraldine, planted peach trees when they saw the tobacco buyout coming. In 2005 they were ready to sell their first harvest, and now they have about 2,500 trees, some open to U-pickers. At their roadside stand, Geraldine’s Peaches and Produce, they sell the bounty from their diverse produce garden. “Everything for sale here is from our farm,” Geraldine said. Items include blackberries, raspberries, melons, potatoes, tomatoes, okra, and greens. While the farm is known for its produce, it also had its fifteen minutes of fame as the location for several scenes in the 2008 Hollywood film “The Secret Life of Bees.” But because the filming had to take place in the winter the leaves you see on screen are made of silk and the fruit is plastic. 10728 Highway 41 North, Lumberton (Robeson County), 910-739-8686. Open May to December.