Generations of Joneses cultivate the orchard
Every pot of reddish gold peach jelly created by the hands of the 82-year-old matriarch of the sprawling 600-acre family fruit tree farm in South Millington has a little bit of personality. Early peaches produce a lighter shade, later ones deepen as the season develops.
âSometimes the mood changes,â says Juanita Jones, chef at Jones Orchard.
Generations of the Jones family have cultivated the orchard ever since the late HL Jones, known as “Peaches,” founded the farm in 1940. And for decades the woman behind the orchard’s vast array of jellies, jams, preserves and relish has been Juanita Jones, the wife of Peaches son Lee Jones.
One recent summer morning, the orchard’s jelly expert stood over a bucket full of pears. She chose one and sculpted it in a frenzy of blade and bark.
âThree pears in a minute,â she said, her green top showing off her bright blue-green eyes.
Jones’ canned pears follow a centuries-old process. From the orchard to the kitchen, they are picked from the tree, peeled, covered with sugar, put overnight, cooked and potted.
âOld fashioned, as it has been for ages,â Jones said. “I grew up with them. My mom grew up preserving pears this way.”
Jones was born in 1936 in Samantha, Alabama, unincorporated Tuscaloosa County. The daughter of sharecroppers, Jones picked cotton, canned vegetables, picked berries, and helped her mother in the kitchen make jelly.
Her aunt introduced her to shorthand at the age of 15, which eventually led to a long career, love and peaches.
Jones devoured the shorthand, noting preachers’ sermons and country song lyrics in quick symbols. She apprenticed in high school to a law firm, and during her 20s an older court reporter became a mentor to her.
They typed things up together and after she got proficient she took care of some of her stuff. She went into business on her own and for the next 38 years transcribed legal, criminal and civil matters, preserving the records of lawyers, witnesses and judges.
Early in her career, she met a man who witnessed a land dispute lawsuit in a case she was transcribing. She loved the fact that he was a college man, and they bonded by having an agricultural training growing up and being Southern Baptists.
âWe could speak the same language,â she said.
The man, Lee Jones, asked her to go on a date, which turned into a romance. They went to fairs, fishing, the Peabody to eat, plays and the symphony. After about two years, they married, with Juanita continuing her work in the justice system and Lee working in her family’s peach orchard. Their son, Henry Jones, arrived in 1970 and their daughter, Mary, in 1972.
After Henry graduated in Agribusiness from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, he worked in Nashville and Memphis, then returned to the orchard. He took over the operation about four years ago. New additions since its return are a strawberry rack and a corn maze, including a haunted maze, as well as pumpkins and tomatoes.
Henry and his wife, Dayna, have four children – Cooper, twins Ty and Jack and Olivia – who are homeschooled and farm workers learning the family business.
Juanita and Lee’s daughter, a classical musician who plays the French horn, earned a scholarship to the University of Southern California where she married and have her family. She also grows heirloom tomatoes.
âShe’s still a southerner,â Lee said.
Jones’ Orchard now attracts customers to two locations in Millington, a market on US 51 North and one on Singleton Parkway. The farm offers U-pick products from April to September with acres of plums, nectarines, blackberries, strawberries, pears, blueberries, apples and pumpkins. At least 25 varieties of peaches are grown on 110 acres, including the Elberta, Contender, Redhaven, Indian, and Georgia Belle peaches.
Their produce is also sold at Agricenter Market, Downtown Memphis Farmer’s Market, and others. In addition to canned peaches and canned peaches, they offer peach salsa, tangy flamboyant salsa, homemade sauerkraut, and a chow chow relish made with green tomatoes, peppers, onions and vegetables. ‘a special syrup from a family recipe shared by employee, June Edwards, of Ripley, Tennessee.
âI’m a little thrilled that the peach orchard is just south of Millington,â said customer Ben Beaird. “Normally they’re far out in the country.”
Beaird said he values ââ”the absolute integrity of the place”.
âIf you buy a watermelon you know it’s going to be a good one,â he said. “Buy a peach, you know it’s gonna be a good catch. You can count on them. That’s their reputation.”
As they circled the vast farm, Juanita sat behind the wheel of a white Honda Accord with Lee in the back.
They point to apples, okra, peaches, and wild elderberries, which Juanita feeds on, and the nearby Big Creek Baptist Church, where Lee’s mother was a pianist and organist.
The church cemetery adjoins the Jones Orchard, which now has 10,000 trees. This is where Lee plans to be buried.
âHe’s going to watch the orchard and make sure everything is done right,â Juanita said.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
Market and Cuisine
Address: 7170 US 51 North, Millington
Telephone: (901) 873-3150
Hours: 8 am-6pm every day
Address: 6850 Singleton Drive, Millington
Telephone: (901) 872-0703
Hours: 8 am-6pm every day
In line: http://jonesorchard.com/
Make your choice
Consult the maturing calendar on http://jonesorchard.com/jones-orchard-ripening-calendar.htm or call (901) 872-0703.
Fall activities and corn maze (seasonal)
Address: 6880 Singleton Drive, Millington
Telephone: (901) 872-0703
Founded in 1940
25 varieties of peaches, plus acres of plums, nectarines, blackberries, strawberries, pears, blueberries, apples and pumpkins