It was a warm, summer day in late June as we pulled up to Peach Pickin’ Paradise in Lamar, Arkansas, a well-known landmark throughout the state. Immediately upon arrival, we see endless rows of peach trees with the picturesque Ozark mountains lining the background. A few minutes later, Mark Morgan, co-owner of PPP alongside his dad, Steve, pulls up on his side-by-side utility vehicle from checking peaches with hopes of ripe peaches in the next week. We take a seat at the orchard stand that greets Peach Pickin’ Paradise’s many visitors and Mark begins telling the history of the land where we’re sitting.
View of the Ozark Mountains from Peach Pickin' Paradise
HISTORY OF PEACH PICKIN’ PARADISE
“The ground we’re sitting on right now was bought in 1876 by my great great grandfather,” Mark said. “We’ve got a receipt in the family bible that the first peach trees were purchased in 1890. My great great grandpa packed and shipped peaches, and once my grandpa returned from World War II, he started doing the same. He and my grandma started the pick-your-own operation in 1977.”
Founded in 1876, Peach Pickin' Paradise has been designated as a Century Farm by the Arkansas Agriculture Department
When Mark’s grandpa passed away in 1999, times got tough on the farm. Steve was already filling his time raising cattle and turkeys and Mark was only 14-years-old. However, Steve vowed to keep the peach tradition going.
Today, Peach Pickin’ Paradise boasts an expansive 3,500 peach trees with nearly 25 varieties. The current orchard was planted in 2010, which has several more years of production left before new trees in a different location will begin producing and this orchard will be left to rest for a few years. As if they weren’t busy enough, Mark also raises cattle and hay alongside his dad, and his dad also grows turkeys for Butterball. He grows around 240,000 hens a year. Despite their full schedules, though, Mark and Steve are making plans to expand the farm.
Mark Morgan, co-owner of Peach Pickin' Paradise in Lamar, Arkansas
COMING BACK TO THE FARM
Many kids who grew up on the farm and decided to carry on the tradition will talk about how they always dreamed of coming back to run the farm after college. Mark’s story is just a little bit different.
“If you had asked me when I was 18, I was ready to go to Fayetteville and get off the farm,” Mark said. “I knew I wanted to do something in agriculture, but not necessarily farming. When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I was considering coming back to the farm, but that year was a freeze out in peaches meaning there wasn’t any available income for me. I decided to go ahead and earn a master’s degree in animal nutrition. While working on my master’s degree, there would be moments when I would really start missing the peaches. I would be halfway across the state on a calm summer day, but I knew that there was a storm of people at the orchard and I missed it. It took me getting away from the farm to know that I missed it. Ever since I came back in 2010, I have loved going to work every day and I know it was a great decision for my family.”
Mark Morgan checking on the nectarines at Peach Pickin' Paradise in Lamar, Arkansas.
Close up of the almost-ripe nectarines at Peach Pickin' Paradise.
LIFE ON THE FARM
As you can imagine, Mark has countless memories from growing up on the farm. He’s now trying to create those same experiences for his wife, Shay, who did not grow up on a farm and their kids, Kate (3) and Luke (11 months).
“I remember running through peach trees as a kid with an irrigator running overhead and trying to outrun it,” Mark said. “Simple things like that are some of the best memories of my childhood.”
He also notes the unique opportunity to have his daughter and son alongside him on the farm and not miss out on them growing up. Whether he’s checking cattle or driving down the peach rows, you can often find Kate or Luke right there with him.
“There are a lot of hours in farming, but they can be a part of that,” Mark said.
Although the memories are great and will last a lifetime, Mark hopes his kids gain more than just memories from growing up on a farm.
“I hope they learn the value of hard work and come to respect where their food comes from and share that with other kids,” Mark says.
Including being able to be around his kids more often, Mark recognizes the other unique qualities the farming lifestyle offers.
“I enjoy the unpredictability,” Mark notes. “With the peach business, you get to make very few proactive decisions. It’s a lot of reactionary decisions on what Mother Nature gives you. She’s going to deal the cards and it’s up to you to play the hand.”
Technology and innovation play an important role on the farm, particularly with irrigation. They have a variable drive pump that can change the current on the pump based on watering needs thus altering the amount of water that’s pumped out and ultimately saving energy. However, the peach business consists of a lot of manual work, which gives Mark the opportunity to learn in a different way than many others.
“Because of the manual nature of this job, I can listen to different podcasts to learn new things and be better at my job. You can grow yourself as a person while you’re out here pruning and whatnot all day,” Mark said.
It’s important to note that Mark is not just in the business of production. He’s also in the business of educating Peach Pickin’ Paradise’s many visitors about where their food comes from and the pride he has in the farm.
“My favorite part of this is people coming out to the farm, so they can go out to a tree and see exactly where their food comes from,” Mark said. “They can harvest it themselves and eat it right there. It’s great to have people come out and see we’re a family farm. Visitors can see we care about what we’re doing and see why we’re doing what we’re doing. We can express to people that we’re so proud of this life even though it’s not always an easy one (PPP lost about 90% of their peach crop this year due to an April freeze).”
LIFE OFF THE FARM
While Mark does work hard, there’s no denying he still makes time for his beloved Arkansas Razorbacks. Whether he’s watching them on TV, watching them in person, or just listening to the play-by-play on the radio while he’s working, Mark doesn’t miss much when it comes to Arkansas athletics.
“I come from a Razorback family,” Mark notes. “A lot of people play golf or hunt and fish, but my favorite thing to do is go to Fayetteville and take my kids to football, baseball, and basketball games. It’s really awesome to see your daughter call the hogs at just three-years-old.”