STARKVILLE — She parks her truck in front of the old service station on University Drive four days a week, pulls out a chair and sets up her umbrella.
The bed of her truck is full of juicy, maroon peaches, berries and butters. A sign says they come from Chilton County, Ala.
Her name is Sarah Ballenger, 20, and she greets her customers with a warm, welcoming smile. Ballenger used to sell peaches from the corner of Montgomery and Lampkin streets in Starkville, right in front of Nesco Electrical Distributors, but this year she moved to University Drive, next to Stromboli”s.
Business was slow the first few weeks of the season, Ballenger said, as her regular customers didn”t know about the new location. Lately, though, the number of vehicles pulling into the station has increased.
“I think this is going to be a really good location,” she said. “It”s just a matter of people figuring out where we are. But word is slowly getting out and people are finding us.”
Last summer, when her mother, Kathleen, was running the stand, she typically sold about 80 peck baskets of peaches per day. So far this year it”s been somewhere between 40 and 50, Ballenger said, though business has started to pick up.
A family affair
Ballenger”s family, the Griffins, have sold peaches in the Golden Triangle for decades. The latest chapter, however, began 12 years ago.
Ballenger”s oldest sister, Jenny, was a student at Mississippi State University. Her father, Charlie, suggested she buy Chilton County peaches from a family friend and resell the fruit to help pay for college.
“At first she thought he was crazy,” Ballenger said of her sister. “But she ended up doing it anyway.”
Jenny began selling the peaches from the back of her Toyota pickup truck in the summer of 1997.
Fast forward 12 years and all six of the Griffin children have sold peaches in the Golden Triangle at one time or another, Ballenger said. She is the youngest of the group and runs two stands — one in Starkville and one on Highway 45 in Columbus, in front of Rite Aid.
Ballenger”s brother, Rivers, runs a stand across from Lowe”s in Columbus and another in West Point.
The Starkville stand has moved four times in the past 12 years.
Much of the business comes from repeat customers, like Jim Wilson. Wilson says he”s been buying the Griffin family”s peaches since they first set up shop in Starkville 12 years ago.
When asked what brings him back year after year, Wilson said “the quality of the peaches and the quality of the people.”
“They”ve been better this year than ever before this early in the season,” Wilson said.
Xiao Wang works at Mississippi State and said she already has made several trips to Ballenger”s stand this season.
“I just love these peaches,” she said with a laugh. “They are really, really good.”
Ballenger has been around so many peaches in her time that, after the first few days of the season, she can”t even smell them anymore.
“People come up and say, ”Oh, they smell so good,”” Ballenger said with a smile. “And I”m like, ”Well, I know they taste good, but I can”t smell them.” After about the third day, that”s it. But I enjoy it the first few days.”
Ballenger plans to sell peaches in Starkville until the middle of August or so. She”s open for business Tuesday through Friday, but also sells at the Starkville Community Market Saturday mornings.
For more information on the Griffin family”s peach business, visit www.chiltoncountypeaches.com.
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