by Ginny Farmer
||Peaches, plums, raspberries and grapes grow near this building behind the Martins’ home.
President Ronald Reagan declared July National Peach Month in 1982, but peach growers in Chilton County have been celebrating the refreshing fruit since 1947, when the first Chilton County Peach Festival was held.
Every year, pageants and parades are held, baskets of peaches are auctioned off, and new and old recipes are traded between friends.
In Jemison, one peach-growing family has been working hard to produce delicious, quality peaches since 1988.
Married since 1987, Gene and Weida Martin own 200 acres of peach trees in Chilton County off U.S. Highway 31, in addition to a successful automotive business and a horse farm, all on adjacent property.
Farming has been a family tradition, but cars are where Gene Martin got his start. The small family business has grown into a large family business, and the Martin offices have a friendly atmosphere with family, friends and even dogs making visitors feel welcome.
Martin’s first office was a humble storage shed near his father’s service station. He had to clean seed and plow parts from the old building before adding a couch, from his friend Larry Smith, and a desk.
|One of Weida Martin’s favorite things to do is eat a peach or plum fresh off the tree. Peaches are a delicious, nutritious fruit celebrated every July during National Peach Month.
Building and salvaging cars was good business from the beginning, but like Martin’s mother, Margaret, said, "If we had half a dozen cars on the lot, we thought we were doing great."
One day, while visiting a car lot in Tallassee, Martin was listening to his friend, Gene Gray, talk about peaches, and he had an idea.
"He was telling me about peaches and farming, so I got to thinking," Martin said. "So I told my daddy, who had a lot of property, that if he would furnish the property, I’d furnish the money to buy trees with, and we’d start a peach farm."
At first on a mere 25 acres, Martin and his wife and brother, Danny Martin, and parents, Douglas and Margaret Martin, went to work planting trees and picking peaches. Although Douglas Martin passed away in 1992, the farm is still very much a family business, with Danny taking on much of the management of the peach farm.
"At first, Gene’s mom and dad would help us out, and we’d all take turns going to market," said Weida Martin, who worked as a nurse for 14 years. "We’d pick peaches at night with the car headlights shining. It was a few years before we were able to hire people to pick them for us.
"You always crawl before you walk," she said.
The hardest part now is keeping all of the businesses organized, she said.
Ninety-five percent of the peaches the Martins grow are yellow-meated. They also grow the early "pickle peaches" and Elberta root stock.
"When I go to the market and sell peaches, I just enjoy the people, and I enjoy people enjoying the peaches," Weida said. "It’s good to exchange recipes and talk about what all you can do with a peach. I’m a peach cobbler person myself, but it’s just interesting talking with people."
Now the farm grows plums, nectarines, grapes and raspberries in addition to a variety of peaches.
This year, unfortunately for all of Chilton County’s peach growers, the peach business has not boomed as much as in years past because of the weather.
Weida said that peaches need at least 700 dormant chilling hours, and this year’s crop has been small, probably near 25 percent, because of the exceptionally warm weather.
Just as the peach-farming business has grown, the car business has grown as well.
||Gene and Weida Martin own a successful tractor business featuring Massey-Ferguson tractors.
With 12 body-shop men and nine mechanics, the Martins now have a detail shop, 200 cars on the front line, and even a successful tractor business. Gene Martin’s Tractor & Equipment sells a complete line of Massey Ferguson tractors, and offers full service and parts for most makes and models.
"I always wanted a tractor business," Martin said.
The tractor business is one of the most successful of Martin’s businesses, one of the top Massey Ferguson dealerships worldwide, selling more than 200 tractors last year alone, and poised to sell even more this year. The business has even won awards, such as the Million Dollar Club for surpassing $1 million in financing in 2005.
The Martins bought the horse farm in 2000, and keep about 40 horses on it. Currently the focus is on Palomino horses.
The horse farm has even been featured in Chilton County’s local paper, The Clanton Advertiser.
Martin told The Advertiser the horse farm was originally supposed to be his "getaway," but it, too, became a booming business of buying, reselling and breeding horses.
For all their farming needs, the Martins spend a lot of time dealing with Mid-State Farmers Co-op in Clanton and manager Eddie Lockhart.
They use the Co-op to buy pesticides like Orbit, Gramoxone and other controlled chemicals, horse feed, pasture fertilizer and all types of seed.
"They just buy a heap of stuff from us — all their supplies," Lockhart said. "They’ve been a great customer for several years now. We got started with them in the very beginning, and they’ve grown dramatically in the past 10 years."
The Martins have gone through many types of animals over the years, including many types of horses, goats and cows.
Even with the stress of all the businesses, managing multiple buildings and employees, the Martins still find time to raise teacup poodles, and currently have about 10.
But the greatest joy the Martins have is their grandchildren. They have five from their two daughters, and they love to take them out on the farm.
"The fun part is when you can relax and enjoy the farm — take the grandchildren out there. The grandkids are my life," Weida said. "The best part is just being out in the field, walking through it and just picking you a peach and eating it right there."
For information on Gene Martin Auto Sales, visit www.genemartinsales.com
Dream Peach Cake
1 box Duncan Hines butter cake mix
2/3 cup homogenized milk
1 stick margarine (soft)
1 tsp vanilla
Using a large mixing bowl, put in cake mix. Add eggs, margarine, milk and vanilla. Mix until well blended. Bake in two 9-inch round pans at 350 degrees until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. After cooling, cut cake with thread so there are four layers.
8 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
1-1/2 cups sugar
9 oz. Cool Whip
Beat cream cheese with electric mixer until smooth. Add sugar, mix, then add Cool Whip. Mix and add to each layer, topping each layer with peach slices.
Ginny Farmer is a freelance writer from Auburn.