Yong Khang and his wife, Yee, made a trek Saturday from their home in Athens, Ga., in search of sweet, ripe York County peaches. The White Lady is their favorite.
On the first day of pick-your-own peaches at The Peach Tree between York and Clover, the couple picked a dozen boxes of the White Lady as their daughter, 7-year-old Faith, played in the orchard.
Yong, 41, and Yee, 40, said they have no plans to can or freeze the peaches — they just eat them fresh and share them with family. Yee said they chose hard peaches because they’ll last about two weeks, compared to about a week for the softer, ripe peaches.
July heralds the arrival of high peach season in Western York County, and the brisk traffic at The Peach Tree on U.S. 321 Saturday was evidence that buyers are hungry for peaches.
They came from near and far. Yinan Giao, 49, drove from Concord, N.C., to find peaches. “South Carolina peaches are much better than North Carolina,” said Liao, who comes every year. “It’s the weather.”
Others, like Annette Falls of Clover, were closer to home. Falls came with her husband and their two children to pick peaches for her grandmother, who wants to make a peach pie.
Peach Tree owner Ben Smith, who marked his 80th birthday Saturday, said the quality of the peaches is good. The crop is running about a week later than usual due to a cool spring.
“It’s dry weather,” he said. “They’re not quite as big as I like them to be, but dry weather makes a good peach.”
Smith said he’s been selling locally grown peaches for a few weeks, but the pick-your-own orchard opened for the first time Saturday.
The White Lady is a white peach, he said, popular among many buyers who like to eat fresh peaches. This week, Smith said, he may have some yellow peaches, more popular for canning and freezing.
Black’s Peaches, a few miles away on S.C. 5 west of York, is marking another important milestone this peach season — its 90th year of business.
Beth White, who works in the bakery, said the market plans a customer appreciation day on Saturday, Aug. 3, with throwback prices, ice cream and fun for the kids.
“We’ve been raising peaches longer than anybody in the county,” said owner Arthur Black. His grandfather, Arthur L. Black, started the business in 1923, then passed it on to Black’s father, E.C. “Punk” Black, who died in 1985.
The family business packed and shipped peaches to New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and other northern sites until 1972, he said. “That year, we shipped three truckloads of peaches,” he said.
But all they got back for the peaches, Black said, was the freight bill. The northern market was flooded with peaches, he said, and the loads of peaches were dumped, and never sold.
Black graduated from Clemson in 1972 and came home to work at the family farm that year. His father “was going to get out out of altogether; there wasn’t any money in it.”
But Black said he enjoyed the farming and didn’t want to let the peach business go. The business at that point had focused soley on shipping peaches, not selling them locally.
So Black began the roadside produce market. He also started the pick-your-own peach operation, which was more popular at a time when people did more canning and freezing than they do today.
Peaches are still the magnet that brings people to the market, he said, but Black’s also sells a variety of other produce, including tomatoes, blackberries, blueberries, cucumbers, squash and more.
Some of the produce is hauled from other growers and from out of state, but Black said 80 percent to 90 percent of what is sold at Black’s is grown there. He also grows and sells hay, oats and wheat. In the fall, there are pumpkins.
Black, who has about 50 acres of peaches and some 22 varieties, said he began selling locally grown peaches about two weeks ago. Although the quality of the fruit is good, he said, the crop is less than half of a full crop because some peach trees weren’t pollinated.
“The weather during the blooming period was nuts,” Black said. Damp, cool and cloudy weather for about 10 days during the blooming and pollination period meant low activity from bees who pollinate the fruit.
He said the availability pick-your-own peaches will be “hit or miss” this summer because the crop is spotty.
“But the quality has been good; if they made it pollinated, they are fine,” he said.