FILBERT -- Three faded wooden baskets boasting the dark red, orange and yellow hues of Springold peaches rested on a produce stand off Old Limestone Road on Thursday morning.
A few hours earlier, the fuzzy fruit had been swallowed by a weathered hand and plucked from a tree limb in Jimmy Bryant's orchard near Filbert. It was the first fruit Bryant, a second generation grower, had picked in almost two years.
After a year's worth of bad weather and bad news on Wall Street, those first pecks, harvested this week, carry the hope of farmers from Fort Mill to Filbert.
"It's about do or die," Bryant, a peach man for more than 40 years, said about the importance of a good crop from now until August. "If we keep gettin' a little rain, keep the hail outta here, we'll be OK. Everything we've got so far looks pretty good."
Last year's peach crop, normally the feather in York County's summer cap, was wiped out by a mid-April deep freeze when temperatures plunged to 20 degrees.
The handful of farmers who tend York County's peach orchards lost everything. All the hours in the fields, all the pruning, fertilizing and watering since picking the last season's peaches in August 2006 -- all wasted.
Then came the drought. The hottest, driest summer and fall in decades choked most everything else their family's land could grow. And this spring, gas prices have pinched up by pennies every day.
Arthur Black, who grows 100 acres of peaches at his farm off S.C. 5 west of York, parked the truck. He drives a Buick sedan from field to field, trying to save gas however he can.
"The whole economy is scary," Black said.
But peaches on trees, in baskets and in the trunks of cars driving back to Rock Hill, Charlotte and everywhere else, make the credit crunch, mortgage crisis and inflation seem hundreds of miles away.
"We have peaches on every tree we got," said Ben Smith, owner of The Peach Tree in Filbert, a tiny farming community sandwiched between York and Clover. "We've been thinning for the last three weeks, so we're going to have big peaches."
Peach growers don't usually make predictions. They tend to be superstitious about looking ahead. It's not surprising, considering their livelihood can be destroyed by one storm or cold snap. So, they remain cautious.
But each one admits that if the rain is steady, the sun is hot and the hail is absent, good things will happen.
"An inch (of rain) a week and hot weather makes good-tastin' peaches," Black said, noting the season will peak in mid-June and hopefully continue for the next eight weeks.
As long as $4 gas prices don't stop customers from making the drive to York, Filbert and Fort Mill.
"I know the peaches will be good. It's the gas prices I'm worried about," said 70-year-old Orestes Sanders, born on the land he farms south of Clover. "But if we can get the traffic out here, we'll have plenty to sell."
Jimmy Bryant believes the traffic will come. It has to. This time last year, after the freeze, he was working not in his fields, but for someone else, grading land.
"If you don't have a nest egg," Bryant said, "you better get another job."
This week, Bryant's back at work, this time at his roadside market. He stocked his ice cream freezer and repaired an air conditioner.
And he picked peaches.
When the cars and trucks start rolling down U.S. 321 and Lincoln Road this weekend and every weekend for the next three months -- following his signs down Old Limestone Road and looking for new varieties ripening every week -- he'll be ready.
"I'm sellin' my peaches this year," he said. "I'm sellin' 'em all."