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Posted: June 23, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Supporter Spotlight: CJ Orchards

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Priding themselves strictly as a family farm, the Markleys began CJ Orchards with a few peach trees in 1983. Almost 30 years later, the orchard has grown to 40 acres of fruits and vegetables.

Every season, customers faithfully return to CJ Orchards to pick up what the Markleys has to offer. Customers travel from the surrounding counties such as Morgan, Walton, Jasper, Newton, Rockdale and Gwinnett to purchase CJ’s produce. Like a ripple effect, great word of mouth has even drawn Metro Atlantans to the farm.

“We’re the only peach orchard in the area. And being located right on the edge between Newton and Walton county and a mile from I-20, we’re in a great location that’s easy for everyone to find,” Jim Markley said.

The farm carries five varieties of peaches: Harvester, Red Haven, Red Globe, Contender and Fire Prince. They also provide an assortment of other fruits and vegetables like watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, squash, blueberries and their famous vine ripe tomatoes. Pecans are produced also, though they are sold wholesale to retailers only.

With all the crops designed to grow and harvest simultaneously, a typical season for CJ Orchards usually last for five weeks. All of the fruits and vegetables are hand-picked and inspected for the best quality. Customers are invited to stroll through and pick their own blueberries.

“We opened our shed last Friday and depending on how the fruit matures and how fast the produce sells, we should be open through the third week of July,” Jim said. “We’ll close up when the last peach is picked.”

More than ever, consumers are taking advantage of the growing “buy local” movement sweeping across the nation. Several studies have indicated the health benefits and relative low cost of locally grown produce, which has led buyers to be concerned with where their fruits and vegetables are grown.

“We try to put out good product at a good price. We don’t want customers leaving the farm feeling ripped off,” Markley said. “There’s just nothing better than a tree-ripe peach as it provides a richer taste than those picked before it’s ready, which is how most peaches are sold in grocery stores.”

CJ Orchards is currently in harvest and open to the public. It is located in Rutledge. For more information, call (706) 557-2635.

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