What started out as strictly business for Danny Bishop – making runs to Amish country in Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky for produce to sell at his shop in Fort Oglethorpe – has turned into much more.
Bishop recently returned from Indiana, his tractor trailer loaded with Amish pumpkins, gourds and other products.
"You pull up to the Amish farm," says Bishop, "and the horse-drawn wagons start coming in from the field, full of pumpkins, vegetables, fruit. Everyone helps load the produce onto the truck, including women and children."
As the Amish farmers load, says Bishop, they sing. "The harmony is just incredible. You never heard anything like it. They sing religious songs, folk songs, popular country songs. Sometimes they even yodel."
And when the work is all done, there’s the home-cooked food. "There’s always at least a snack after we finish loading," says Bishop, "cinnamon buns, peach pie, coffee. Just when you think you've had their best food, they bring out something better."
Over the years, Bishop has developed friendships with the Amish farmers he buys from. "At first, I went to the Amish markets. I got to know some of the farmers and started going directly to their farms to buy, and from there, we just became friends."
Picker’s Produce is located at 4 Forrest Road near the Fort Oglethorpe post office. Picker's accepts EBT and credit and debit card payments, as well as old-fashioned cash. The store is open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Picker's Produce can be contacted at 706-944-4193 or 423-718-4167. Picker's can also be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Pickers-Produce.
Bishop and his family have been invited to attend Amish weddings. "Weddings are a big deal with the Amish," he says. "The whole community comes out. To get ready, they’ll move 40 or 50 wood stoves into a common building – one of their huge workshops, and the women will make hundreds of pies and cakes."
One year, Bishop’s brother went with him and took his guitar along. "We had a great time. Some of our Amish friends had never seen a guitar played in person and they loved it."
Business with the Amish has turned into a two-way street for Bishop. He looks for old farm equipment to take to the Old Order communities that live without electricity. They also like cast iron and stainless steel cookware, he says.
And the Amish have learned that Bishop is always on the lookout for antiques. "One day I had left a farm in my huge truck and I looked in my rearview and saw a man in a horse and buggy chasing me down. He was waving and shouting, so I pulled over." The farmer had a load of old blue glass canning jars he’d been saving for Bishop’s visit.
Bishop’s Amish pumpkins at Picker’s Produce across from the post office in Fort Oglethorpe boast beautiful thick stems up to a foot long. "The farmers cut the pumpkins from the vines then let them sit in the field for a week so the stems can dry out."
The pumpkins and other produce come from towns with names like Shipshewana, Mishawaka and Wakarusa in Indiana, and Hopkinsville in Kentucky. Bishop makes many trips a year to buy from the Amish farmers in the towns.
Picker’s Produce carries other Amish products, too, including butter, bacon, cheese, candy, and jams and jellies with names like F-R-O-G, Traffic Jam, and Scuppernong Jelly, as well as the more familiar blueberry, blackberry and plum jams and apple and peach butter. They also carry a line of Amish relishes and pickled asparagus, beets, okra and eggs.
Anyone who has visited an Amish farm might see a similarity beyond produce to Picker’s in Fort Oglethorpe – things like going the extra mile for customers, commitment to quality and old-fashioned friendliness.
"Our customers know Echota, the girl who’s been managing the store," says Bishop. "She’s moving onto other things in life, and my son John has been taking over. He’s our new manager.
"John has already become a favorite with our lady customers who love to cook," says Bishop. "They bring him pies, preserves, all sorts of stuff."
For John’s part, he cares about his customers. "We try to make shopping here as convenient as possible for people," he says. "I have customers who will come early and pick out what they want, then I’ll refrigerate it for them till they get off work and can pick it up."
John says he also has customers who call and order by phone, then pick up their already prepared order. "They can even honk their horn and I can take it out to their car for them."
Picker’s Produce is stocked full for the fall season with pumpkins, mums, straw and fall fruits and vegetables, and they plan to have Christmas trees again after Thanksgiving.