Straight from 40: Minor keeps coming back for food

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 23, 2004

Bobby Minor was raised on a peach farm up around Clanton. He still remembers selling peaches off the back of his daddy’s pickup truck.

Occasionally, some tourist would ask, “Where’d you get them peaches?” Minor remembers his daddy always answered the same way. “We grew ’em on the back forty,” he’d say.

That’s why, when Minor opened his own produce stand on Cedar Street back in 1990, he called it The Back Forty.

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Minor has tried his hand at a number of different jobs over the years, but he keeps coming back to those peaches. And tomatoes. And turnips. And collard greens.

“It’s just something that comes natural to me,” he says. “This is something I was raised up doing. It wasn’t something I had to get out and learn.”

You can find just about any kind of fruit or vegetable that’s in season at The Back Forty. But you won’t find much in the way of fast food.

“We had a woman come in here the awhile back wanting to know if we had something she could order to go and eat on the run,” chuckles Minor, waving a hand in the direction of those raw turnips and collard greens. “I told her she was in the wrong place — unless she wanted an orange or something like that.”

Minor laughs telling that story, but he knows it also points to one of the biggest challenges facing small produce markets like his.

“People are getting so busy, going and doing,” he says. “It’s getting harder to sell them anything they’ve got to sit down and fix, especially this younger generation. Some of the old folks still take time to fix a meal, but not as many.

“These days, as far as vegetables go, you’ve got to cut it up for them and have it ready for them to cook or they don’t want to fool with it.”

To those who didn’t grow up on a farm and have never tasted a really good homegrown tomato, taking the time to prepare vegetables in their natural state might seem like a lot of trouble. Minor offers assurances it’s well worth the effort. “There’s a world of difference between what we sell and what you get in a can,” he says.

There is also, he insists, an awful lot of difference in his produce and the produce you’ll find in the large supermarkets.

“Now you take peaches,” Minor says, warming to his topic. “Your big supermarkets stock what they call ‘graded out’ peaches. They’ve been brushed to get rid of the fuzz and they wax ’em so they look real pretty. But what you’ve got is a sort of ringer peach.”

He points out that supermarket produce is often picked green and placed in coolers to prevent spoilage, adding, “That takes all the flavor out.”

Minor gets his peaches direct from a local grower in Clanton and he’s willing to bet you can taste the difference. They’re tree-ripened and shipped directly to his Cedar Street stand.

Minor says he’s not against new technologies that enable consumers to enjoy fruits and vegetables virtually all year round. He just thinks it’s important that consumers know there’s a trade-off for being able to eat watermelons in Demopolis in January.

“You can get just about anything you want anytime you want it, if you’re willing to pay for it,” he shrugs. “They get produce from everywhere now — South America, Mexico. Shucks, you can even get grapes from Africa.”

The locals who patronize The Back Forty, though, don’t seem all that taken with such exotic offerings. Minor’s biggest sellers are still tomatoes and peaches. In the winter he sells a lot of turnip greens and collards.

If you’ve never enjoyed a mess of greens and cornbread, turnip greens are slightly more bitter than collard greens. “Most people put a little salt in ’em, a little pork … people ’round here call it fatback,” says Minor. “It’s all good for you, I know that.

“I guess that’s what you’d call this place is a health food store. Ain’t nothing in here bad for you, if you know how to cook it.”