Story and photos by BEN GRAFTON
Recently a new business, Cypress Cattle and Produce, opened a store on U.S. 331 just south of its intersection with SR-20 in Freeport. This store which offers fresh produce for sale is operated by the Langford family from a farm that spreads across Walton and Holmes County lines a few miles southeast of Ponce de Leon. An interview with Luke Langford at the farm, with purple martins overhead, brought out interesting background on this venture.
At the present time the Cypress Cattle and Produce Farm consists of about 1,100 acres, of which about 300 are in Walton County and the balance in Holmes. The original family farmer was Langford’s great-great uncle who started the farm in the late 1920s and, since he had no children, he willed the farm to Langford’s grandfather. He grew crops of sugar cane and red potatoes, the very basic carbohydrates and starches of that era, which were shipped by rail to market. Over the years those crops were supplanted by ventures into beef and dairy cattle operations. Now, Langford says, because of market conditions, the farm has become a very diverse operation and although there are a lot of things going on, it pays off in a lot of ways.
A large part of the acreage is taken up by a group of cypress ponds, the largest of which at 32 acres in dry periods, is Ice Pond. The ponds supply an abundant self-regenerating supply of raw material for the farm’s sawmill where the trees are sawn to yield air dried cypress lumber. A part of the output goes into construction of children’s play houses, garden planters and similar rustic items for home and farm use. The balance of the output is sold direct to wood workers and local people.
The utility of the ponds doesn’t end with the lumber operation. The ponds are full of fish and fishermen can go there to catch their limit. Crappie are doing well right now. The fee is $15 per boat for a half day or $20 for the full day.
The Langfords still a run cow-calf operation for beef and a substantial amount of acreage is devoted to pastureland, but the priority given to beef is not what it once was.
For the past several years attention has turned to produce growth and this effort is still evolving. Langford has tried supplying Walmart, the produce brokers in Atlanta and Birmingham, farmers markets and the grocery stores along the Gulf Coast from Pensacola to Panama City but there are two main problems. First, the metro brokers turn first to nearby suppliers with whom they have existing ties. Second, the grocery stores tend to buy produce stock only one or two days a week but produce on the farm has to be harvested every other day, so scheduling to meet the store buying pattern with the harvest demand becomes almost unmanageable.
The scheduling problem has been one of the driving forces to open the produce store in Freeport. The Langfords can maintain a reasonable harvest schedule at the farm while keeping fresh produce on the shelves at the store.
At the store, farm-produced broccoli and collard greens are in season and cabbage is coming in. Later, the farm will provide sweet corn, tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, watermelons and cantaloupes. In addition to produce from the farm, the store carries other fresh vegetables, honey, preserves, relishes and similar bottled products. When available, there are strawberries, freshly picked in Plant City.
Last, but not least, the Langfords are in the process of establishing a peach orchard. Langford says that there are some products like tomatoes that can be picked green but will ripen with time but this isn’t so with peaches. After picking, peaches don’t ripen further, they just get soft. There are 3-year-old trees that will be picked when the fruit is properly ripened. They are expected to yield a good crop this year. Last year 500 more trees were put in the ground and if the quality of this year’s crop is encouraging an additional 1,500 to 2,000 tress will be planted.
Take note and stay tuned: Langford would like customers visiting the Freeport store to talk to his people there and tell them what products they would like to see. The Langfords will do everything they can to meet these requests.