Back 40 keeps freshest produce in town

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I was told that if you come to Demopolis, one of the places you have to stop is at Back 40 Produce. Simply called &8220;Back 40&8221; by most Demopolites, this produce and plant stand has occupied the same lot on U.S. Highway 43 S. for the last 16 years.

With baskets hanging from the ceiling and the smell of fresh boiled peanuts, Back 40 is the kind of place where you could just sit awhile and peruse the aisles. The produce is fresh and fragrant, and there is rarely a time when the parking lot is empty.

Owner Bobby Minor has been around produce and farms all of his life. Originally from Chilton County, Minor is committed to providing the best produce for the lowest price.

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In addition to offering traditional produce stand staples like corn, potatoes, watermelons and tomatoes; Minor is known for his boiled peanuts that he makes most every day of the week. He also offers special jams, jellies and preserves that are home-canned.

There are also a few unexpected things about Back 40, like the fact that they accept all major credit, debit and EBT cards. This is Godsend to those of us who rarely carry cash around and rely on our plastic to get us by each day.

Another one of Back 40&8217;s unusual offerings is ripe habanero peppers, which are traditionally used in Southwestern cooking. Habanero chili peppers are known for being one of the hottest peppers that are readily available. They usually rate between 200,000 and 300,000 Scoville units, which is a scale designed to measure the hotness of a pepper. There are only two other varieties of chili peppers that are hotter.

Minor says that he tries to get as much local produce as he can, but sometimes conditions make that a struggle. With the current drought, some farms have experienced serious losses, causing certain items to become scarce.

Some of the crops that have become scarce because of extreme weather conditions are corn, butter beans and peas.

Corn usually requires large amounts of water to grow hearty, and the drought has not helped with that. Most of the butter bean and pea crops were affected by a late spring freeze around Easter. Minor said that many farmers had already planted when the freeze hit and most of the crops were wiped out. By the time they were able to replant, the drought had set in, diminishing any chance of recovery.

Minor has seen droughts in the past, but said this is a pretty bad year. Either way, he is optimistic that the crops will recover.

He said that most crops need the most water right when they start to produce fruit. This critical stage for moisture is what makes good produce into great produce.

For farmers, produce crops are not the only things that have been affected by the drought, Minor said.

According to Minor, West Alabama has seen the worst of the drought.

Compounding the problem for farmers was the dry winter season.

In his 16 years of operation, Minor has seen many changes. He remembers a time when local farmers could make a decent living, no matter if there was a drought or not.

These commercial farms also have equipment that can help produce things in larger quantities. Something else that has contributed to the decline in smaller farms and the growth of commercial farms, Minor said, has to do with the labor market.

Minor also remembers a time when more people prepared and cooked their own food, instead of getting something from a store or restaurant.

Minor said that in the last 20 years, people&8217;s eating habits have really changed. Nevertheless, Back 40 has a consistent customer base that make the stop even on 100 degree afternoons.

Betty Collins goes to Back 40 on a regular basis to buy things like okra and tomatoes.

Thomas Bell is also a regular customer.

The name Back 40 comes from the way farmland is traditionally parceled out into 40-acre sections.

Kelli Hilyer is a staff writer for The Demopolis Times. She can be reached by e-mail to