Mayhaw Tree Provides Rural Success Story
COLQUITT, Ga. (AP) _ A thorny tree that thrives in the bogs of southwestern Georgia has become a symbol of success in economically depressed Miller County, where four women are squeezing jobs and profits from its tart red berries.
Joy Jinks, founder of a company that makes jelly from the fruit of the mayhaw tree, said she and her three partners started the business to create jobs in Colquitt, a farming community of 2,000 with two peanut plants and a panty factory.
Like many other rural communities, Colquitt is plagued by poverty and a shortage of good-paying jobs.
The women considered a number of possible projects, like making draperies, before settling on producing a jelly that has been made in the South for generations, Mrs. Jinks recalled.
Mayhaw trees, a relative of the hawthorne, grow in swampy areas from North Carolina to Texas. The berries, resembling small crab apples, are available for only a few weeks each spring.
″It was the thing we had that no one else was doing,″ said Mrs. Jinks. ″We felt we had a unique product.″
″Everyone grew up on mayhaw jelly,″ said Betty Jo Toole, another partner. ″It’s been around for generations. My family wouldn’t eat any other kind.″
Since starting the business in 1983, the women have doubled their sales each year. They have added six new products and Gov. Joe Frank Harris issued a proclamation last July praising their efforts to improve the Miller County economy.
Their company, The Mayhaw Tree, employs three full-time workers and up to 32 part-time workers during the harvest and holiday seasons. It also provides extra money for low-income people who pick the berries off the ground or scoop them up in nets from water holes.
″It seems to me people are looking for a sign of hope for the rural areas,″ said Mrs. Jinks, a social worker. ″We are a sign of hope.″
In recognizing the importance of their native tree, residents of Colquitt recently held their fourth annual Mayhaw Festival, featuring athletic events, barbecues and entertainment, and they call the town the Mayhaw Capital of the World.
″I think a spark has been lit and hopefully we had a little to do with it,″ said Mrs. Jinks. ″The Mayhaw Festival pulled the community together.″
Mrs. Jinks, Mrs. Toole and the two other partners, Dot Wainwright and Pat Bush, have displayed their products at food shows as far away as New York City. Earlier this year, they played host to 900 tourists, mostly Midwestern farm families who came to Colquitt in buses to learn about mayhaw jelly.
Mrs. Toole said the jelly and a salad dressing made from sweet Vidalia onions grown in east-central Georgia are their best-selling products.
The women also use mayhaw berries to produce wine jelly, syrup and a meat sauce. Two other products, cucumber and pepper jellies, contain no mayhaw.
Their products are sold in 42 states and shipped on mail orders to all 50 states.
″We all have the welfare of the community at heart,″ said Mrs. Bush. ″We see a lot of changes taking place, and there is a lot of community spirit and pulling together.″