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Posted: June 25, 2011 9:44 p.m.

CJ Orchards still peachy after 30 years

By Sabastian Wee/

Georgia peaches: Jim Markley, owner of CJ Orchards, bought 40 acres of farm land almost 30 years ago. Now, he generates hundreds of boxes of hand-picked peaches per day, as well as more than 20,000 pounds of pecans per year. The farm has also bran...

Taking a bite out of a peach from CJ Orchards is like biting into a water balloon; the explosion of flavor upon the first bite will send a sweet river of juices down your shirt.

"A peach from the supermarket just isn't worth buying," said owner Jim Markley. "Because they have to pick it while it's still green, we pick it only when it's ripe on the tree."

As the lone peach orchard in the area, the farm sees customers coming from Newton, Walton, Rockdale, Morgan, Jasper and even Metro Atlanta. Most of his customers are repeat buyers, enthusiastically visiting the farm each season and leaving with large bags of produce.

Driving through 40 acres of gorgeous peach trees (blooming with thick peaches that weigh down the branches) and pecan trees (the nuts are just beginning to bud, right on schedule to harvest in the fall), Markley points to all the fruits and vegetables growing in-between; the land is brimming with produce, it's sweet smell lingering in the air.

"I'm out of land; I've got every square inch planted," said Markley about the farm's future expansion. "Either I grow, or I'm going to shrink. The demand is here and there's no competition around."

Staying true to the family farm tradition, Markley's grandchildren are always on-hand to help with picking, sorting and providing friendly and charming customer service.

"Part of my joy is that this allows me to be with my grandchildren," said Markley. "We put in our eight hours together, then at night, we get in the pool, cool off and collapse for the rest for the evening."

The farm only picks what they believe they will sell that day, to provide the freshest possible produce. The orchard serves about 100 customers daily, selling around 120 boxes of peaches. Saturdays are its busiest days, with cars lined down the driveway.

Carrying five varieties of peaches, along with an assortment of other fruits and vegetables like watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, squash, blueberries and their famous vine ripe tomatoes, the farm is producing better than ever this year.

The farm also produces pecans, though they are sold wholesale to retailers only. The farm typically brings in about 20,000 pounds of pecans per harvest, some of which have reached markets in India and China.

Due to the growing demand for tomatoes, Markley planted over 1,000 Goliath, Jetsetter and Polbig tomato plants this year - double the amount from the previous season.

"I can never have enough tomatoes," said Markley. "Customers that are buying peaches are also buying tomatoes, so we decided to plant the heck out of them this year. They're selling faster than the peaches."

With all the crops designed to grow and harvest simultaneously, a typical season for CJ Orchards usually lasts 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.

This summer's blistering heat hasn't affected the produce, unlike other farms.

"I don't have a problem with the heat, it's just that when it rains, it's a violent storm," said Markley, pointing to a still-thriving peach tree that was recently blown over. "But we've got as good a crop this year as we've ever had."

As he stands in the middle of the orchard, smiling and sweating under the beating sun, Markley recalls when he first purchased the land in 1982 with the hopes of starting his own farm. He had been in agriculture throughout his career, working as a commodity trader, and wanted a place of his own. Nearly 30 years later, the orchard has bloomed to its fullest extent and Markley couldn't be more proud.

"When I started out, I had no idea what I was doing," beamed Markley. "Now, even though I'm retired and working harder than ever, I couldn't be more satisfied with what's been accomplished. I just couldn't be happier."

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