By Tammy Leytham
MOSS POINT — Customers who shop at Four Seasons Produce are greeted by colorful rows of tomatoes, oranges, grapes, corn, squash, pears and avocados.
The refrigerated aisle holds sliced sweet potatoes, fresh greens and cut rutabagas.
There’s a row of nuts — all types — almonds, walnuts, Brazil, peanuts and shelled pecans in plastic bags.
John McCollough started an open air produce market in 1995, just up the street from the current location at 4507 Main St. in Moss Point. He had worked more than 20 years as a farmer in Grand Bay, Ala., and saw what grocery stores charged for his produce. He decided to cut out the middle man.
“He wanted to make it more affordable for the customer,” said daughter Vicki Stagner, who along with her sister, Teresa McCollough, spouses, adult children and in-laws continue to run the family business.
In 2000, McCollough got the contract to provide produce for the Moss Point School District, and “saw there was a growing need.”
It outgrew the open air location and even after that site was enclosed, “it was nowhere near big enough to do the work we were doing,” Stagner said.
They moved to the current location, and business continues to grow.
Four Seasons sells to restaurants, casinos, hotels and even produce stands across the Gulf Coast. The family business also services school districts in the six coastal Mississippi counties and several counties in southwest Alabama.
In addition to providing produce for school meals, Four Seasons also prepares 30,000 to 40,000 containers over a three-day span for elementary schools that qualify for a government program to provide additional snacks for students. Those containers are filled with various salads, fruit combinations and vegetables — whatever school officials order — all hand-cut and packaged at the Four Seasons facility.
The business now has about 35 employees, some making deliveries, others washing or cutting produce in the back. And John
McCollough is still at the store everyday, Stagner said, six days a week. It is closed on Saturdays.
The business buys local when local produce is available, Stagner said. Other produce comes from wherever it’s being grown depending on the season, lettuce from California, for example.
The company has five to six trucks bringing in deliveries each day — about 600 cases of apples a week, for example.
And the company is now moving into its busy season.
“Thanksgiving is the biggest holiday we have,” Stagner said. That’s followed by Christmas. Specialty-cut sweet potatoes, fresh veggies, nuts and fruit baskets are all in big demand.
Coming on the heels of Christmas is New Year’s, when customers are looking for their greens and black-eyed peas.
And a head’s up. Expect those pecans to be a little more expensive this season due to a smaller crop. Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center forecasts the state’s pecan crop to be at 1 million pounds. The state produced 5 million pounds last year, and Mississippi’s average pecan harvest is 2-3 million pounds.
In addition, more pecans have been sold to China in recent years, which also drives the price up, according to the MSU ag department.
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