The county is home to some of the South’s best peaches. And growers Andy Millard and his father-in-law, Steve Wilson, helped build that reputation.
Between them, these Alabama Ag Credit customers have over 50 years of farming experience. Many years ago, they operated a large orchard and popular roadside market catering to tourists along the interstate highway.
But these days, Millard and Wilson have a different niche — selling peaches, strawberries and apples at their Mountain View Orchards farm store in Chilton, Ala., to customers seeking the freshest fruit possible.
Sweeter Taste, Better ColorUnlike fruit that’s sold to wholesalers, their peaches and apples are tree-ripened. This means the fruit receives a few extra days on the tree to develop a sweeter taste and better color.
In other words, it tastes better.
The shorter shelf life is ideal for local roadside stands and farmers markets, such as their own on-farm market, which opened in 2005.
“Most of our produce is in the consumer’s hands 24 to 48 hours after it leaves the farm,” Millard says.
The farm store opens in early April and offers fresh-picked strawberries through late May. Peach season begins in early May and continues through mid-September. Over the four-month period, Mountain View Orchards offers 15 freestone varieties of famous Chilton County peaches. Eight varieties of apples are available from late July to early October.Mountain View Orchards attracts a local clientele: families who come out to enjoy the farm experience, and “produce peddlers” — Millard’s term for fruit resellers. Resellers, he explains, are common in his part of the state. Generally they buy produce from farmers and sell it at roadside fruit stands.
High Quality at a Good Price
“We have a lot of schoolteachers that this is their summer job, selling out of the back of a truck, and they come and pick up pro-duce from us a few times a week,” he says. “Our goal is to offer high quality for a good price. So we have more wholesale-type prices than some other retail locations.”
All of the produce in Millard and Wilson’s farm store is from their own orchards — 4,000 peach trees, 2,500 apple trees and 2 acres of strawberries.
The pair farmed 300 acres before downsizing to their present 45 acres — part of a downsizing trend in the area, according to Millard.
“Either you’re really big or you’re small and serve a niche market, like we do now,” he says.
Faithful to Farm Credit
To serve their niche even better, they decided a few years ago to make improve-ments to the orchard and farm store. And Wilson knew exactly who to call for financing help — Alabama Ag Credit.
Before getting into the fruit business in 1983, he spent eight years with the local Federal Land Bank Association — now Alabama Ag Credit. In fact, he rose from loan officer to president during his tenure.
“They know how to deal with farmers, unlike some commercial banks,” Wilson says, referring to the Ag Credit staff who helped with his loans. “They know how to look at our operation with a realistic view.”
Although Chilton County is known for its peaches, apples also grow well in the area, according to Millard.
He and Wilson produce dwarf rootstock apple varieties that grow on trellises. The trellis structure makes it easier to prune and manipulate the branches and creates more space for the fruit to grow. Another advantage of dwarf trees — the apples can be picked from the ground. Both the apple and peach trees are hand-pruned and the fruit is hand-picked.
“It’s a lot of expense and time getting the orchard established,” Millard says, “but once you do, maintenance and harvesting are a lot easier.”
A Three-Generation Family Business
A three-generation family operation, Mountain View Orchards has produced quality fruit since the 1930s. Millard’s wife, Christy, operates a food truck on site, serving lunch and pastries featuring homegrown fruit. The couple’s three daughters — ages 20, 17 and 13 — work at the farm market during the summer and on weekends.
Their daughters also handle the business’s Facebook page, telling fans which fruit varieties are in season and for sale. Social media is also their biggest advertising platform and source of new business.
“More people are coming out to see where their food comes from,” Millard says. “They want to deal with us as the farmer and ask questions about the product. They like knowing it came from a family business.”
Farm Credit lenders play a vital role in providing reliable credit for family farms such as Mountain View Orchards — and it’s a job they take seriously, says Dale Williamson, branch manager in Alabama Ag Credit’s Selma office.
“It’s an honor to play a small part in helping these farmers expand their operation,” he says. “And with Steve’s Farm Credit history, I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know them.”
For more information and store hours, visit mountainvieworchards.com.