Skills honed helping other farmers guide Reeves in his business
By Michael Wetzel
For the Enquirer
HARTSELLE — Mike Reeves practices what he used to preach.
He became a full-time farmer and businessman after retiring as Morgan County extension agent three years ago, and he says his former job made him better at his current pursuits. The 63-year-old Hartselle native said his experience helping farmers especially helps him cope with the post-COVID challenges businesses face.
“Being a county agent made me a better farmer,” said Reeves, who served as the county agent for five of his 20 years with the extension service. “It allowed me to continuously learn by being around people in agriculture. The extension service responsibility forced me to learn more so I could help other people, so that in turn made me the biggest benefactor.”
Reeves farmed part-time even while working with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service.
“There are different ways to prune, different ways to control weeds. I was able to work one-on-one with people, groups. I was able to learn how to organize all of that. I knew how to understand the farmer because I was one. We all know a spring freeze doesn’t just come on weekdays. Sometimes it comes on the weekend. I needed to provide solutions for the farmers. The extension helped me to develop that.”
After retiring in February 2020, Reeves opened a 10,000-square-foot peach farm store just east of Hartselle on Alabama 36. Today it features a restaurant complete with a lunch menu and more than 20 flavors of ice cream. The ice cream is made at the store and many of the ingredients are grown on the Reeves farm encompassing about 100 acres within a mile of the store, including 15 or so acres at the store.
“Ice cream is easy to sell,” he said. “There is no bad ice cream.”
Reeves, who has a master’s degree in agriculture, grew up on the land where the store is located.
“Farming was all I ever knew. I was born on this farm,” he said. His parents were Donny and Shelby Reeves and his grandparents were Jack and Ethel Reeves. All of them farmed on the same acreage.
“I fell in love with farming. I knew it was really hard work. Daddy taught me how to work hard,” he said.
Now overseeing about 25 employees at the store, restaurant and farm, Reeves is always looking at the positive aspects of the business.
“The market and everything actually got a benefit from COVID,” he said. “Business increased because people felt more comfortable in the open air. They wanted to get out of the house. People weren’t working. Every day was a Saturday. We sold more that year than the previous two (at our smaller store). People wanted stuff they knew where it came from. Our strawberries were getting ripe when COVID shut things down. We had a long line of people getting strawberries.”
He said the original family farm store opened in 1960 about 200 yards west of the newer, much larger Reeves Peach Farm Store.
“We added to that old store about four times,” he said. “Before it was a building, they sold stacked up watermelons and cantaloupes along the side of the road. Then we had a problem with people having enough room to park and not enough room to shop without running into people. So we started thinking about building the building we are in now.”
He said the new store and restaurant is about 7,200 square feet, three times the size of the original store. Reeves’ store and farm features peaches but he doesn’t model it after Peach Park in Clanton.
“I’ve been to and seen other markets, not just in Alabama but around the Southeast,” he said. “I might take an idea or two I’ve seen and try it out here, see what might work for our situation. Our market is on our farm. You are coming to the farm when you shop here. You can go out the back door, pick strawberries, blackberries, pumpkins, whatever.”
Near the store is a field of sunflowers, quickly becoming a popular site for amateur and professional photographers.
“It’s not generating revenue, but it’s getting people in here and those people are spending money,” he said about the sunflowers. “People love to have their pictures made there and then they post them on social media. That is remarkable. It’s been effective advertising.”
Specializing in peaches
His store will one day take online orders for its peaches, but he said he’s not ready for that yet.
Right now peach products sold at his store are peach ice cream, peach pies and peach cobblers.
“Ripe peaches make all of those things better …. We’re trying to do that with everything we make in the kitchen,” he said.
A billboard on Interstate 65 helps attract traffic, he said. Karen “Sissy” Harrison, a six-year market keeper with Reeves Peach Farm Store, said the store has seen recent customers from Australia, Africa, the United Kingdom and “just about every state.”
“We had a family from Arizona in here and they didn’t know what okra was. So they bought some,” she said. “We have people coming in off the interstate. Business has been real steady.”
Julian Cothran of Arab and his dog Chloe were making their first visit to the store about 1 mile east of Interstate 65 one day last month.
“My son and his family moved to the Somerville area and have been here. They liked it so I wanted to find this place,” he said while buying a jar of fig jam and elderberry and honey tonic. “I’m sure this won’t be my only visit.”
Keeping business viable
Reeves said he sees the I-65 traffic generating more business but admits it’s the local regular customers who are the core of his business.
“About 75% of our business comes from a 10-mile radius of the store,” he said. “They’re the reason we’re still here. But we get some regulars now off the interstate too. When Talladega has its NASCAR races, we have people going to and from the races who have made us one of their regular stops. We’re getting regulars from the Midwest going down I-65 to the beach, too.”
He’s looking forward to expanding the restaurant. Presently the store, restaurant and farms include about 25 workers. In about five years that number could grow to 35, he said. His sons Jackson and David Reeves will take on more responsibilities, too, he said.
He said plans for next year include installing a playground and an outside patio on the north side of the building.
The restaurant menu includes smoked meats “cooked with peach wood,” barbecue, sandwiches and vegetables.
Running the business “is a challenge every day,” Reeves said. “We have a great team of folks. We have no labor shortage. We try to take care of our workers, but nowadays, you can’t pay anybody for what they are worth.”