An old-fashioned red barn provides an ideal setting for the Cooleys' roadside market.
The McLeods have been growing peaches in the sandhills of South Carolina almost as long as there has been a town here. "My granddad planted the first peaches around 1916 and sold most of them to the people on the train," says Campbell McLeod.
Now orders pour in from across the United States and Canada by e-mail, fax, and snail mail. "We only ship our best," says 24-year-old Jennifer Winburn, who manages gift box distribution. "If your mama's getting peaches from us, I handle her peaches as carefully as I'd handle my own mama's."
What's more, State 151 has become a well-traveled back road to the beach, which brings a brisk business to the family's two roadside markets. Locals still visit the original, a tiny building at the gate of the packing shed on U.S. 1, but most people stop at the modern market on a knoll a few miles away.
Customers linger on the long porch, cooled by ceiling fans and full of rocking chairs. In addition to peaches, the market boasts a wealth of baked goods, pickles, jams, and preserves. At the cafe, they serve tomato sandwiches, peach cobbler, and peach ice cream.
All this appeals to people such as Judy and Sammy Funderburk of Pageland, who brought their granddaughters Hannah, 9, and Megan, 5, to the market. "We came for more peaches," Judy explains. "We made peach ice cream yesterday, and we ran out. We've been coming here more than 40 years. You know you're getting local stuff when you come down here."
An Old-fashioned Roadside Stand
Cook's Roadside Market sits just feet from the blacktop on U.S. 25 in Edgefield County, about 50 miles southeast of Columbia. It's modest compared to some in the state, but the white shed, built on what was once a country store, has an old-fashioned, homey feel. Fans supplement the natural breeze, and a large beach umbrella shades the baskets of peaches out front.
A list of available shelled beans is handwritten on an aluminum-rimmed board. Today, there are butterbeans and pinkeye peas, as well as bins of homegrown tomatoes, potatoes, and canned goods. Of course, the baskets brimming with peaches disappear as fast as they can put them out.
"Some of the best peaches are grown right here in Edgefield County, South Carolina," Raymond Cook claims. "They call this area The Ridge, and it's known for growing peaches. I don't fly, but they say you can see the sandy ridge from the air."
At Christmas, the Cooks send about a thousand greeting cards, encouraging customers to come back for strawberries, peaches, and produce. The personal touch seems to work. Loyal patrons come from all over the Eastern seaboard to get the Cooks' peaches.
The quality keeps customers clamoring for more, Raymond says. Ask him what makes a peach so juicy and sweet, and he'll just shrug. "That's a peach farmer's secret," he says.