It’s peach time in the Sandhills and Barbara and Garrett Johnson have opened their doors to peach lovers far and wide.
Open from June through October, Barbara Johnson said she gets visitors from Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia, to name a few. Anyone on their way to the beach that lives north of Ellerbe is bound to see the peach-colored signs.
Barbara Johnson said she is dreading an impending move that will take the store out of the way of these travelling peach-buyers.
“We’ve got to get out by December 31,” said Johnson with a sigh. “All these people are going to lose their homes. There’s going to be a big clover-leaf interchange where we are, for the new Highway 73/74. We’re going back north to the other store. They’ll tear this building down.”
This will be their third time moving store locations. The land the current building sits on has been in their name since 1998, when no talk of highway changes was taking place. Johnson said they double-checked to make sure they wouldn’t regret building the store. She said county commissioners said there were no plans and no funding.
“They said do anything you want,” said Johnson. “And if they did anything with the highway, they’d buy it, so we went full blast ahead with the building.”
Garrett Johnson’s father started the peach orchard in 1934, during a time when areas around the Sandhills were blossoming with the fruit, with Candor at the focal-point.
“Everybody had a block of peaches, now you can’t find a bloom,” said Barbara Johnson. “It’s nothing like it used to be.”
When the orchards were first planted, there were four or five varieties to choose from. Now there are over 50 different peach varieties. They ripen at different times throughout the season, and the Johnson’s have a brochure listing the varieties and when you can expect them at the stands. The list even shares which are extra sweet and which are white.
Next up are the freestone peaches, which will be ready in about two weeks.
“Most people want those for processing,” explained Johnson. Their brochure explains how to can and make preserves.
Last year, many peach farmers suffered a small crop due to drought. This year, things seem to be looking up; at least for the Johnsons.
“The crop is very nice this year,” said Johnson. “I’d say we have a better crop than last year. I think we’re going to have more peaches available this year. We have nice fruit coming, like nectarines, plums, some apples. Then we have cantaloupe, and watermelon will come on July 4. We also have vegetables like okra, corn, tomatoes year round and eggplant. Our squash is doing well. We have lots of pumpkins in the fall.”
The other store is 16 miles away, and traveling back and forth has cut down on profits with gas prices rising. They also drive to Greensboro every day, and Ashboro occasionally. Their customers used to drive down from Greensboro to buy peaches.
Apart from the pending relocation, the Johnson’s biggest issue is keeping workers.
“People want to work,” said Johnson. “Then they get out here and realize they don’t want to do this. It’s not an easy job. You’re dealing with people. You’ve got to have your chin up all the time. Peaches are an expensive crop to grow. It takes year-round work.”
Johnson’s Peaches is open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. To contact them, call (910) 997-2920.
Staff Writer Dawn Kurry can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ex. 43, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.