About Drew Echols
Length of time in Hall County: All my life.
Education: Graduated from East Hall in 1997.
Occupation: Farm Manager at Jaemor Farms.
Most interesting job: I would have to say Jaemor has been and continues to be my most interesting job. I worked for Georgia Power for two years after high school. I enjoyed the work and people at Georgia Power, but there is never a dull moment here on the farm.
Family information: I am married to Shelly Echols. We have two wonderful children, Chloe, who is 8, and Cohen is 4.
Each Monday, “5 Questions” asks someone in our community to answer five questions about their lives. If you know someone who would be a good subject for this feature, send their name and contact information to email@example.com.
As farm manager for Jaemor Farms, Drew Echols knows firsthand the challenges faced by small farmers. But the Hall County native sees good things ahead for the farm that has been part of his family for several generations — and for other small farms. Today, The Times asks Echols five questions about local agriculture.
1. What challenges do small farmers face these days?
Several challenges that are common for young people in the farming community are having an adequate work force, estate taxes and weather patterns.
Our workforce is troubling, especially in the fruit and vegetable industry. Most of the work is hands-on manual labor. It is hard to find people to fill those spots.
Our customers can’t afford to buy crops that cost $15 or more per hour to harvest. We need a reliable guest worker program. Estate taxes kill family farmers. Young farmers can’t afford to pay taxes as high as 55 percent on a piece of property they inherit.
Finally, weather patterns seem to be on extreme ends the past few years. I understand that farming is always a gamble, but young people who do not have cash reserves to operate on are always the first to go out of business.
2. How have people’s buying habits helped local farmers?
The local grown movement has boosted our sales tremendously. I often tell people at speaking engagements, “My pop, Jimmy Echols, was local grown before it was cool.”
With the demand for local grown foods, we have been able to diversify our crops in many ways. Strawberries and blackberries have turned into huge draws for our market. The addition of a variety of vegetables has enabled us to employ more people year round.
One of the biggest benefits is that all of our eggs are not in one basket. Peaches are still the biggest crop and moneymaker, but if we have a crop failure, we still have things to fall back on.
3. What’s your favorite peach recipe?
There are so many peach recipes that I enjoy, it’s hard to name them all. I’m going to have to narrow it down to two. My grandmother makes a peach pudding that I can eat a gallon of. The pudding is made just like a banana (pudding) but you substitute peaches. It really is my favorite.
The next is really simple. I have just learned that grilled peaches are great with any summertime meal. You
simply peel your peaches, glaze them in honey and let them brown on the grill for a few minutes. They taste like homemade cobbler. We grill peaches at my house a few times a week because it’s fast and easy.
4. Jaemor Farms is a multigenerational family business. What plans do you have for the future to keep your business strong?
To keep our business strong, I guess we are going to have more kids. Just kidding!
It is very important for us to give our customers the family feeling every time they shop with us. My family has done a great job instilling a work ethic in my generation that continues to pay off. I think it’s up to me to instill that same type of “hard work pays off” work ethic into my children and other family members even if they choose to work somewhere else.
Changing with the times and demands of our customers is also very important to the future of Jaemor Farms. The local grown movement is here to stay. We have to embrace it and do our best to utilize our land and resources to meet those demands. Who knows, we may be growing kiwis one day.
5. If you had to eat a meal of only Georgia-grown crops and produce, what would you cook?
My meal from Georgia-grown crops would probably end up looking more like a dessert since I’m more of a fruit guy; I have to say though there would definitely be some grilled chicken. As far as vegetables go, a Vidalia onion, sweet corn and okra make any meal look tasty.
Depending on the season, I may add fresh collard greens. Grilled peaches make the short list, but I can’t leave out strawberries. I eat strawberries in just about every form, but a fresh strawberry cobbler with a dab of vanilla ice cream always hits the spot.