GILLETTE, Wyo. — Susan Sherwood sells more than just peaches and produce when she pulls her trailer into Gillette early on Fridays.
“We don’t sell food, we feed people,” she said.
Each week, Sherwood and her family (her mother, sister, nieces and nephews and, sometimes, her brothers) drive to Grand Junction, Colorado, from their home in Glenrock to visit four orchards to pack a trailer full of fresh fruit and vegetables to sell in four towns across Wyoming: Casper, Glenrock, Douglas and Gillette.
“You just can’t get this fresh of produce (in Wyoming) unless people bring it,” she said. “We are selling on Friday what was picked on Thursday.”
For years, the closest to Gillette they came was Douglas and people begged them to come to Gillette. Seven summers ago, they decided to give it a try. They’ve been a fruit and produce staple ever since, reported the Gillette News Record (http://bit.ly/2bKun9U).
When they roll into town and set up their trailer and tent on the Douglas Highway, they always have familiar faces waiting to greet them.
Many of her customers have been visiting her each week for years. They picked over the peaches, plums, apricots, melons, squash, beets and peppers.
Moms who were pregnant last season bring the baby the following season.
“My customers are also friends,” Sherwood said. “People in Gillette bring me a lot of joy.”
She may only be in Gillette a few days a week every summer, but she sure feels like a part of the community.
“I’m always exhausted by the time I roll into Gillette, but I pull into the parking lot and see people that I’ve hired and then set up and the first customer arrives and it’s like family. I get so excited,” she said.
It was important to Sherwood in running the business that the money stayed in the community. She hired help from Gillette and continues to hire more as the business booms. Plus, she gives extra produce to the Soup Kitchen. Nothing goes outside the state, except for the original money for the produce.
“We are not just a seller, but part of the community,” she said.
Like everyone and every business, Wyoming’s downturn also has affected her. But she doesn’t care so much about the money.
“Some customers have lost jobs, but we got through the ups and downs with everyone. We all help each other all of the time, because everyone needs support some of the time,” she said.
Her customers have helped her through wind storms, helped set up the tent and supported her family over the years, so a supportive ear or a free peach is nothing.
“We feed people on plates and in hearts,” she said.
Which is why her favorite motto is: Home of the happy mouth.
Between the people and the peaches, Sherwood doesn’t believe it could get much better.
“You just take one look at those peaches and think, ‘How could I live without them?'” she laughed.
Which is exactly how the whole business began.
“When my mom was a little girl, her father worked in Grand Junction and they would eat Palisade peaches,” she explained.
The memory and taste of those Palisade peaches stayed with her all those years and even when she started her own family.
So when a truck carrying Palisade peaches arrived in town at the bowling alley in Casper, her mother bought a box and shared it with everyone she knew. Just like her, they fell in love with the taste of these specific peaches and begged for more.
Little did they know the seed was already planted. Pat suggested the possibility of selling the peaches as a side hobby to their real jobs. Then they bought a trailer and began going to Grand Junction to pick up the peaches everyone had fallen in love with.
Originally, they delivered the fruit to the Casper bowling alley and sold their own in Glenrock and Douglas. They weren’t interested in competing with another local business.
That was 18 years ago.
Eventually, when the bowling alley no longer sold peaches, they took over the Casper market and, later, Gillette.
Sherwood continues to be very proud of what they sell
“These are small farmers, not big ones,” she said.
They have been buying from one Grand Junction farmer for years. They call him the “fruit whisperer,” because his peaches are the best around. But they also visit three more to round out the supply of fruits and vegetables.
All the produce is fresh and delicious, but it started because of peaches, so they are near and dear to her heart.
“Georgia peaches taste great, but only in Georgia,” Sherwood said. “These peaches ripen on the trees and are put right into a box into the orchard.”
Then they’re loaded into her truck.
When she gets there each week, she is never quite sure which kind of peach she is going to get. There are New Havens, Globes and O’Henry’s.
“It’s like Christmas when you open the lid to see all these beautiful peaches in the box,” she said.
She often explains to her customers the importance, and the difference, of leaving the fruit on the tree to ripen.
“The longer the fruit is on the tree, the more sugar is in the fruit, which means the more flavor. At the grocery store, they are picked much more green and left to ripen in the truck,” she said.
There are more than 2,000 varieties of peaches and Pat’s Peaches and Produce sells about eight.
Each summer in August and September, she watches the peaches change from one kind to another, each with different flavor and different size. But when she gets those boxes of the O’Henry’s, she knows what’s coming. The end.
O’Henry’s are the last of the peaches they sell to ripen. Ironically, compared to the others, they have the longest shelf life, too. But those globes of yellow, orange and red signal to the Glenrock teacher the winding down of the summer, the growth and the start of the school year.
“By the end, I get sick of peaches,” she said. “But then you see the first fresh peach (in summer) and you just can’t wait.”
Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com