PLANTERSVILLE – About 10 years ago, Mitch and Ann Smith carved out three acres on their 32-acre farm to plant peas for the public.
“We started it for older people so they could come and pick their own,” said Mitch Smith. “They come out here and say, ‘I remember picking peas as a kid.’ Not many people do this anymore, but I kind of feel like it’s coming back.”
When the Smiths’ only grandchild, Haley Jones, was about 9, they brought her into the business.
“We wanted her to work and earn her own money,” Ann Smith said. “We didn’t want to just give things to her.”
Today, Haley, a 15-year-old sophomore at Shannon High School, is as much a part of the farm as her grandparents. She helps plow the fields, hoe the rows, plant the seeds and pick the peas. She even keeps all the grass cut on the property.
“I’ve always liked being out here, but I’m more of a girly girl,” said Haley, a cheerleader and a Beta Club member who just recently competed in a beauty pageant. “But I’ve always liked hanging with my Papa. I really do this to be with them. I really wouldn’t mind having a garden at my house one day, but mainly I do it to help them and to make memories.”
The Smiths also plant about two acres of corn, which has already been harvested. All the purple-hull peas are just about gone, but they’ll plant another crop that will be ready this fall. And middle of this month, if we get a little rain, they’ll plant turnip and mustard greens.
“We have people come and bring their grandchildren to the fields with them,” Mitch Smith said. “They’ll be laughing and singing. We build relationships with people. It’s very rewarding.”
The Smiths sell their peas and they also allow customers to “pick on halves.”
“The public comes to pick and they get half of what they pick and I get half and they don’t pay anything,” Mitch Smith said. “That works good for people on a fixed income. We try to plant five rows and skip two rows so the older people can pick on the outside.”
“Last year, we had some ladies come to pick who were on canes,” Ann Smith said. “We have people 85 years old out here picking.”
In the past week, folks have picked 263 bushels of peas out of the Smiths’ fields and they’re still picking.
“It’s amazing what you can do on a small plot,” Mitch Smith said.
Those who don’t want to shell their own peas are in luck. Mitch Smith bought a custom-made pea sheller from a man in Laurel and as far as he knows, it’s the only one in Lee County.
“It’s called a Welburn Sheller and this fellow in Laurel invented it,” Mitch Smith said. “It’s amazing. You won’t have a mashed or a broken pea. If you let the hulls dry overnight, you’ll get 100 percent of a bushel of peas. If you pick today and shell today, you won’t get but about 70 percent. It’ll shell two bushels at a time in about six to seven minutes.”
Mitch Smith said he’s not in the business to make money. Basically he just covers the cost of fuel and fertilizer with enough left over to pay his granddaughter. But Haley is learning lessons money can’t buy.
“I buy all my school supplies and my school clothes and a couple of years ago, I bought my own phone, which was real big for me,” she said. “It’s allowed me to realize you may want some things, but you don’t always need them.”
Her grandfather said he and her grandmother are grateful for the hard work Haley has put into the farm. Sometimes, he drags her to the fields and sometimes, she drags him.
“We’re just proud of how far she’s come and what she’s done,” he said. “We’re having fun with our granddaughter. We’re making memories.”