In the midst of his 23-acre Sugar Hill Berry Farm near Murrayville, Jerry Hill has 20, 400-foot rows of muscadine vines, a type of grape native to the South.
Hill, who also has 300 peach trees on the farm, said the muscadines offer a little different choice for visitors than other you-pick farms in the area.
“The reason we chose muscadines is it’s a healthy fruit, and people who like muscadines, love muscadines,” Hill said. “It’s hard to find a place to pick them, so it’s kind of niche. They don’t ripen uniformly. Some will be ripe and some won’t, so you don’t pick these things by the clump.”
Hill grows both muscadines and bronze muscadines, also known as scuppernongs.
“Muscadines are a native grape to the South; you find them on the edge of the woods,” Hill said. “A lot of grapes that you buy in store are grown somewhere else. The health benefits of a muscadine grape are extremely high. … The flavor of these things is off the charts.”
Sugar Hill Berry Farm
What: Pick your own muscadines, by appointment
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sundays and holidays; Group weekday U-pick by appointment
Where: 6646 Jake Kemp Road, Murrayville
More info: 770-540-6952
Hill and his wife, Sherry, bought the North Hall farm 20 years ago and did some gardening and sold hay from the pasture until about four years ago. That’s when he decided he could do something he enjoys while using the farm to help supplement his income as he moved closer to retirement with UPS.
“I’ve always gardened and love growing things,” he said. “We’d garden and just give things away. About four years ago I made a decision that I like to do this kind of stuff, so I just decided to do it at a big scale.”
That “big scale” included 300 peach trees and the 3 acres of muscadines that are available for customers to pick themselves. The farm also grows other fruits and vegetables that can be purchased and even has honey bees so the Hills can make their own honey along with jams, jellies and a variety of other items.
Hill said farms such as his are becoming more popular.
“People are getting more concerned about the foods they eat,” he said. “Social media has really spread a lot of concern about pesticides. I think it also has to do with the fact that people like to get out and enjoy nature and do things.”
Hill said he has been surprised by the fact that most people who come to his farm come from an hour or more away. Many of those live in Atlanta and moved to the area from outside of the United States. He even has a map pinpointing the areas around the country and world from where his customers have come over the years.
“They’re either Asian, Europeans or Hispanics; I’ve gotten to really know a lot of them,” he said.
“These people had farms where they were from. They were used to being around agriculture. Now, they’ve moved down to Atlanta, and they’re living in that concrete jungle down there, and there’s no farms. They’re having kids, and the kids, all they know is the concrete jungle. The parents are wanting to bring their kids up and let them experience what they experienced back in their country.”
Hill said he enjoys meeting all the people from different cultures.
“I feel like some days I am at an international meeting because there are so many different nationalities,” he said. “I love to see them put their cellphones down. You can see the stress just melt off them. They don’t want to leave. They will sit on the porch for an hour.”
That porch is attached to his “Country Store,” where people can look at magazines from the 1960s, buy homemade jams, jellies, honey and other items and drink a Coke from a glass bottle. Hill will even give customers a pack of peanuts to pour into the Coke bottle
“I want everything to be like the old days,” he said.
The business is also a family affair. Sherry makes some of the items for sale and also mows the grass on the farm.
“I enjoy making jellies and all the stuff, doing that part,” she said. “I enjoy coming down and meeting the people. I really love cutting the yard — something is wrong with me, I know.”
The Hills have also received help from their three sons: Drew, 28, Robby, 26 and Clark, 19.
While they can see their house from the muscadine vines, peach trees and store, Hill said there are disadvantages to mixing home and work so closely together.
“You have people sometimes that come after you’ve closed and they are wanting to pick fruit,” he said. “A farm is not on your schedule; you’re on its schedule. When things need to be done, it has to be done.”
Hill’s peach season runs from around June 1 until the second week in August. He then has time to prepare for the muscadine season that began Labor Day weekend and will likely run through mid to late October.
Cynthia Venditti, who lives in Dahlonega, came to the farm Saturday with her family, Rudi Pires and children Vincent Venditti, 11, and Landon, 5. She learned about the farm on Facebook and was trying muscadines for the first time.
“I like that they’re sweet,” she said. “I like the texture. They’re like giant grapes.”
Pires said the muscadine reminded him of a fruit he used to eat in his native South Africa, but he didn’t remember the name.
The farm is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Groups can come for U-pick by appointment. For more information, call 770-540-6952.