From sunup to sundown, Shelia Calhoun Rice can be found working on the family farm. When asked about her job title, she laughed and said, “Whatever needs to be done, that’s my job title.”
A fourth-generation farmer, Calhoun who works alongside her parents, Gerald and Joyce Calhoun, and brother Brad Calhoun, said that during the busy season an average day is between 14 to 15 hours.
“We are the first here and the last to leave,” she said, “but that’s what you do when you own your own business, especially in farming.”
After graduating from college with a degree in business, Rice’s plans didn’t include returning home to work on the family farm.
“I really didn’t think I would go back,” she said. “I worked in banking for a while and then I was drawn back home.”
With approximately 300 acres located in Turner and Crisp counties, Calhoun Produce was incorporated in 1992 when the current packing house was built. In 1996, peas were added to the farm’s crop inventory that had consisted mostly of butter beans.
“Now our main crops are butter beans and u-pick strawberries,” Rice said. “We grow, shell, and pack the butter beans fresh here on the farm.”
Calhoun Produce proudly displays the Georgia Grown label on its peas and butter beans that are available for purchase at the farm’s retail store in Ashburn and the Cordele Farmers Market, as well as stores throughout Georgia.
“Our peas and butter beans are for the fresh market,” said Rice, who is a member of the Georgia Grown board. “They are picked, graded, shelled and packaged in one day, and they can be on your dinner plate that night.”
With an ideal location off Interstate 75, Calhoun Produce is a favorite stop for travelers going to and from Florida.
“We get a lot of people off the interstate. They plan their trips so they can stop and get their peas and butter beans and other produce,” Rice said. “Many of them have been doing this for years.”
“The children are not just picking strawberries or walking through a corn maze. We are educating them about where their food comes from and what farming is all about.” — Shelia Calhoun Rice
In addition to farming and operating a packing facility, Calhoun Produce has become a popular agritourism site for school field trips and family outings.
“Harvesting and processing the crops takes place from June to October,” Rice said. “In the spring we are busy with u-pick strawberries. During the fall we have a corn maze. We also have ‘fun on the farm’ with wagon rides, pig races, farm animals, honey bee house and a large playground during the spring and fall.”
Rice said the field trips provide a way of educating local children about the importance of farming. Since the field trips started in 1995, Calhoun Produce has hosted thousands of children, teachers, and parents.
“The children are not just picking strawberries or walking through a corn maze,” Rice said. “We are educating them about where their food comes from and what farming is all about.”
On certain Saturdays, Calhoun Produce host “Fun on the Farm” days, where the entire family can pick strawberries in the spring and early summer. During the fall, visitors can wander through the farm’s eight-acre corn maze and enjoy wagon rides.
As the agribusiness activities continue to expand, Rice said the next area of growth will be with the Georgia Grown school nutrition program.
“We have been working with local schools to show them how they can serve fresh peas and butter beans all year,” said Rice, who recently attended a Georgia Grown event for school nutritionists. “We cooked some peas and butter beans and gave them a sample. We were showing how they can serve fresh Georgia produce throughout the school year.”