Carla Payne holds a bucket of freshly picked strawberries in the farm market at Payne Farms in Calhoun.

Carla Payne holds a bucket of freshly picked strawberries in the farm market at Payne Farms in Calhoun.

During spring strawberry season and fall harvest, visitors flock to Payne Farm and Produce in Calhoun in search of sweet, red strawberries and bright orange pumpkins to take home. What they can also find there, however, is a treasure trove of family fun with a healthy dose of agriculture education on the side.

Farm manager Carla Payne and her team are on a mission to educate people in their community about the wonders of agriculture, and if you’ve got a question, they’ve got an answer.

“I have a strong love for the land. It’s rewarding to see the agricultural process from a seed to a finished product,” Payne says. “Agriculture isn’t just a job for me – it’s a way of life. When we have school groups of kids out to our farm, we focus on educating them about agriculture because we only have them for a few hours, and that may be the only exposure to agriculture they ever have.”

Breana Manning and other children play on the bounce pad.

Breana Manning and other children play on the bounce pad.

Strawberry Festival

Payne Farm and Produce was started in 1945 by Carla’s paternal grandparents, Oscar and Ruth Payne. Her parents, “Papa Sam” and Ann Payne were the next owners, so Carla and her sister, Mary Manning, grew up on the farm. Carla later earned a degree in horticulture at Dalton State College before coming back home to manage the farm in 2000. Manning handles booking tours, while longtime employee and family friend Sonny Fox is the farm foreman. Sonny’s wife, Amy, runs the produce stand.

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Payne Farm produces strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, okra, peas, beans, cantaloupes, squash, cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins. They sell the produce at their on-site produce stand during the spring, summer and fall months and host a popular Strawberry Festival the Saturday before Mother’s Day. The farm is also open to the public on weekends in October for their Harvest Days.

“Since our Strawberry Festival is Mother’s Day weekend, moms get in free and we celebrate moms too,” Payne says. “2016 was our fifth year for the Strawberry Festival, and we had 3,500 people. Visitors can pick strawberries or buy them pre-picked, and we have arts and crafts vendors, food vendors, hay rides, barrel trains, a petting barn, jumping pad, corn pit, bingo and lots of family activities.”

Sonny Fox checks the progress of the tomato plants.

Sonny Fox checks the progress of the tomato plants.

Farm Tours

Elementary, middle and high school students visiting the farm on field trips learn about the life cycle of strawberries and pumpkins from seed to harvest.

“We tell them about pollination, how we grow things and why, and we stress the importance of agriculture careers,” Payne says. “Agriculture isn’t just for farmers. There are technology jobs and lots of other career opportunities.”

Payne calls farm visitors and customers their extended family. “We enjoy letting them be part of our farm and giving them a great ag experience,” she says. “My parents were always very involved in the ag community at the local and state level, and that’s important. Being involved in groups like Georgia Grown, the Farm Bureau and Georgia Young Farmers Association is where my deepest love of ag started.”

Ann Payne, middle, is surrounded by farm manager Sonny Fox, his wife and store employee, Amy Fox, farmhands Drew Herring and Brandon Gravitt, and Carla Payne on the back porch of the farm market.

Ann Payne, middle, is surrounded by farm manager Sonny Fox, his wife and store employee, Amy Fox, farmhands Drew Herring and Brandon Gravitt, and Carla Payne on the back porch of the farm market.

Like many of Georgia’s family-owned farms, heritage runs deep at Payne Farm and Produce. Just take a peek inside their produce stand on Salem Road, which was lovingly built in 2013.

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“My grandparents owned a store called the Midway about three miles down the road on Highway 41 in the 1930s and 1940s, and the wood inside our produce stand came from their store,” Payne says with pride. “The exterior wood on the produce stand was harvested from our own farm.”

Though “Papa Sam” passed away a couple of years ago, Payne’s mom, Ann, can still be found helping around the farm. “She helps with the store and the bookkeeping,” Payne says. “She’s great at greeting visitors.”

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