November 2, 2013 10:07:46 PM
William Browning - [email protected]
David Reese, who is 59 and soft-spoken, has for almost three decades operated Reese Orchard in Sessums, a rural community in east Oktibbeha County.
There is a sign where customers drive up that says, "Welcome. Please use intercom or honk," because a lot of times Reese is out and about on the orchard. It is mostly a one-man operation.
The orchard covers 10 acres and is a place where someone can pick fruits and leave with their loot, after paying. Reese doesn't have problems with people sneaking in and picking fruit without paying. He does have problems with deer.
"They come in and load up at night," he said.
"Birds will just peck a fruit and then move on to the next," Reese said, and then added with a smile, "I've been thinking about getting a pet falcon."
But business is good. There are pears, muscadines and some blueberries growing at the orchard but the most popular are Japanese persimmons.
The fruit's botanical name, Diospyros kaki, comes from a Latin word meaning "food of the gods." There are health benefits to be had from eating them and people seem to either consume persimmons religiously or none at all.
"Some people have almost an addiction to the fruit," Reese said. "It's quite amazing."
There are persimmons native to the southeast. But Japanese persimmons are the ones people favor and Reese, whose orchard is open on Saturdays, has hundreds planted. Most are Jiro varieties, which are crisp, sweet and bright orange.
October is the prime season to pick them. The tail end of the season has been dry, which means the persimmons are not quite as big as some years, but also they are sweeter. Now that November is here, Reese guesses he's only got a few weekend's worth left before the orchard closes for the season.
He provides customers with "long-reach pickers" -- persimmons do not fall off limbs -- and carts or buckets and then sets them free to roam.
The question must be asked: Why would someone come spend time picking fruit that could be bought in a store? Reese has theories.
"You can't get it any fresher than picking it right off the trees," he said.
Then: price. Reese sells persimmons at $1.50 a pound. Buying them off a shelf can sometimes cost .99 cents a piece or more.
But also, Reese said, "People just love the experience. People love picking their own fruit."
Reese is from Sessums. His family once operated a dairy farm on the land where the orchard sits today. Aside from his orchard work, he is also a keyboardist. But his work at Reese Orchard agrees with him and is rewarding.
"Of all the food that's sold, a lot of it doesn't have a lot of nutritional value," he said. "I'm selling something I know is good for people. I feel good about it. I couldn't sell candy. I couldn't be a millionaire off of candy and feel good about it."
There's one other thing: Reese, who lives at the orchard, eats a fair share of the fruit.
"I understand the customers' appreciation for what I grow," Reese said, and then he cut a sliver out of a persimmon and swallowed it with a smile.
For more information on Reese Orchard or to see how persimmons are holding up visit reeseorchard.com.
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.