It all started with a farmer selling peas under an oak tree beside a state highway in Chambers County, Alabama.
Isaac Robertson was relatively new to the world of full-time farming. He started with row-crop commodities such as cotton, corn and wheat, but then decided to try his hand at produce to be more diversified. And he started with peas.
Isaac’s wife, Bradley, was a public relations major in college, so Isaac thought he could convince his wife to help market and sell the harvest. “The first year, I planted an acre of peas, picked, shelled and bagged them, then Bradley posted them on Facebook. Things went so well, that the next year, I planted two acres.”
That was in 2015. Sales increased. People loved the peas. In addition to the Facebook postings, Bradley, Isaac and their three children would sell from the tailgate of a truck parked at the edge of their property on Highway 431, about halfway between Opelika and Lafayette. Bradley was not as excited about the prospect as Isaac, but she followed through to help her husband. “Sitting in a truck on the side of the road selling peas was not at all how Bradley envisioned spending her summer,” says Isaac. “It really was a very humbling experience, but it was also crazy successful.” Isaac planted and harvested other produce like corn, squash, tomatoes, peaches and plums – all grown on the Robertson’s farm – and it all sold out quickly.
“We sold everything we brought down, but we didn’t have any set days or hours we would be there selling, so it was really a kind of hit and miss thing,” says Isaac. “We’d sit there until the heat got to us or it rained or the kids got restless, but our customers never knew when we would be there because we didn’t even know. When we were there, we had a constant stream of customers pulling over to buy. It was from the back of that truck that I came up with the idea of building a market.”
The couple began to pray about it. They prayed hard. They prayed diligently. They were at a crossroads in their family life. Isaac had quit his job as a logger to farm fulltime. Bradley was toying with the decision to go back to school to get a nursing degree, but neither Bradley nor Isaac really had a solid plan to provide for the future of their family.
“We were at a point where I had to take a hard look at my decision to farm,” says Isaac. “We had bought some land, so it came down to farming the land or giving it all up and going in another direction.”
Then one morning, Bradley woke up to find a drawing of a farmer’s market on the kitchen table. “Isaac had gotten up early that morning and had traced out a design for the structure,” says Bradley. “When I saw it there on the table, I was, like, ‘Okay, this is what we are going to do.’” The couple kept praying. They prayed harder. Dug deeper. And things began to fall into place. The small parcel of land where they wanted to build the structure was separate from the other land and had enough equity to support a loan to finance the construction. They obtained the loan, and Isaac started building the very next day.
From the ground up, he did it all; dirt, concrete, walls, electrical, plumbing, whether he really knew what he was doing or not. The couple felt God’s hand in every detail. Every need was provided.
“I needed dirt and a friend with dirt just happened to show up,” says Isaac. “I had two Auburn University students helping me, but we realized none of us knew how to pour and set concrete. A friend who pours concrete just happened to be getting gas next to me at the pump the day before I needed help pouring and setting the slab. Stuff like that happened at every stage of the project. It was really amazing.”
Bradley worked on the public relations side of the market. She commissioned her sister to paint a rooster as their logo and secured old spools for display tables. She and Isaac came up with the name George’s, Isaac’s first name as well as the name of his uncle, George “Pooka” Robertson. With the help of friends who were there at exactly when they were needed most and just seven weeks after the ground was cleared, George’s Farmer’s Market rolled up its doors and opened to the public on June 15, 2016.
George’s offers a variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, poultry and homemade goods, such as local honey, jams and homemade bread.
Whenever possible, items for sale in the market are grown, raised or produced locally and regionally, but there are some items and some seasons when outside produce is brought in. “There are certain things we have to buy wholesale that aren’t grown or produced in this area,” says Isaac. “But we love partnering with our local and regional farmers and craftsmen. We help each other.”
In addition to selling, George’s Market will also be hosting several events in 2017.
“We’ll have a strawberry patch in March and April, and at the end of March, we are hosting a Pampered Chef party on March 25 with all proceeds going to fight children’s cancer,” says Bradley. “We’re going to have a Yoga and Brunch on April 8, and we will continue to host our Farm to Table Dinners throughout the year.
George’s will celebrate its first anniversary this June. The market is thriving and the Robertsons have found where they belong; selling peas (and a whole lot of other stuff) on the side of the road (or just up the hill a little); kind of back where it all began, but on a much larger and fancier scale.
“I never dreamed we’d be running a store together, but it’s so much fun,” says Bradley. “We make a great team. Isaac is an excellent farmer, thoughtful, but bold and fearless. I’m better in the background, more cautious, but always eager to try something new. Neither of us could do our part without the other. We both love helping others and serving our community, so this is the perfect fit for us.”
“This has been a great adventure for our whole family,” says Isaac. “Our children help bring in the crops, they help customers and sometimes they just play and have a good time being kids on the land. We’ve been very blessed with this opportunity, and we don’t take that for granted. We appreciate every friend, family member, farmer and complete strangers who stop by and support us, and we look forward to many more years of success.”
Kate Asbury Larkin
Kate is a native of Opelika and is the outreach cooridnator for the Office of Alumni Affairs and the Auburn Alumni Association at Auburn University. She is a 1982 graduate of Ole Miss and a 1987 graduate of Troy State (now Troy University). Kate has two children, Anna Asbury, 27 and Bo, 25.