Eddie Faircloth strolled through an orchard of pecan trees as he looked off in the distance, surveying his crop. The majority are rooted in the earth, but smaller ones are huddled together in pots.
Business is going well at Avenue Gourmet Pecans in rural Sampson County. That was not the case in 2016. Hurricane Matthew put a damper on operations. The new trees in the pots will replace the damaged ones.
“We lost probably about 80 percent of our crop last year, but this year has been a bumper crop. We’ve done really good,” Faircloth attested.
After the nuts are removed from 250 trees on 7 acres of land, it’s turned into candy, well candy-like, at least. Some are dusted in cinnamon, others chocolate. Still others are dipped in vanilla, and some are used to make pecan brittle, a favorite among many. And, of course, there are just the plain, every day pecan halves.
Faircloth started the business, located at 1915 The Avenue, with his son Dwayne Faircloth nine years ago. After retiring from Smithfield Packing, the elder Faircloth wanted to stay busy and receive a little bit of income.
“It progressed a whole lot quicker than I anticipated,” he stressed. “By the third year, we were actually getting nuts.”
In eastern North Carolina, Faircloth pointed out that many pecan trees grow in yards. He remembered times when people wanted pecans for free, and often got them from friends with trees in their yards.
But with growth in the industry and the love for the candied pecans, the Faircloths needed more than a handful of trees to start the operation they had in mind.
“That’s not what our attentions were,” he said of growing a few trees in his yard. “We didn’t want to buy the nuts, so we started the candy operation.”
The idea was inspired by his grandmother, Effie Culbreth, who made sweets at Christmas time. By adding sweetness to the pecans with milk chocolate, white chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon sugar and brittle — business started to boom. They plan to add more variety to pull in more customers. After the nuts are harvested, they are hand-dipped. With the help of his wife, Kathy Faircloth, about 10 pounds can be made in an hour.
“Now it’s almost becoming overbearing,” he said. “We’re looking at becoming mechanized.”
To make the process easier and produce more products, the family is in the process of purchasing machines for enrobing, cracking and shelling. Another expansion goal is to purchase more land in the future ,with hopes of gaining an additional 20 acres.
“We’re hoping to plant some more trees,” he said. “A lot of people who are farmers don’t want to get involved because it’s a long-term thing. You’re not going to get your money right back. You can’t plant them today and get nuts tomorrow.”
A variety of different trees are grown in the Faircloth orchard. Some of them include the desirable, Stuart, Cape Fear and Kiowa. To become successful, they’ve received help from experienced growers and are members of the North Carolina Pecan Growers Association.
“Me and my son found every way possible to kill a pecan tree,” he said about the learning process. “You need to do your research before you get started.”
The holiday season is also a busy time. Returning customers enjoy purchasing gift tins and products during events such as Jingle Mingle in Harrells. Preparation begins in October. Throughout the year, Avenue Gourmet Pecans receives orders on its website, www.avenuepecans.com. For locals, arrangements are made for pickups or deliveries to avoid shipping cost.
“We have shipped all over the United States,” he said. “We shipped to California, Washington, Pennsylvania … everywhere.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.