Thursday, July 5, 2018

A TOWN OF ENTREPRENEURS

Mercier Orchards, Blue Ridge, GA

We’re in Blue Ridge, Georgia: population 1290, a town that turns into a crowded metropolis on July 4. I’ve been here before, but on this trip, I dug a little deeper into information about the commerce of the area. First stop: Mercier Orchards, owned by Bill and Adele Mercier since 1943 when Bill, a former Agricultural Extension agent for Fannin County, established a thriving industry that has the earmarks of a forward-looking entrepreneur. 

“The ideal spot for a proposed orchard is gently sloping and high,” wrote Jacob Biggle in his guide to orcharding, The Biggle Orchard Book, published in 1906. The Merciers, reading the guide years later, must have been encouraged by this idea. They've grown a fruit industry that has borne out all of Biggle’s aspirations described in his little treatise on fruit and orchard gleanings “from bough to basket, gathered and packed into book form.” I picked up this book in the vast Mercier market, best known for its over 20 varieties of apples, cider, fried apple pies, as well as peaches, blueberries, blackberries, and other produce.

From the photo above, readers can see that the “gently sloping hill” leading to the market would have been a climb were it not for the wooden walkway the Mercier entrepreneurs built for shoppers. Along the walkway, we discovered the plant that is in the area of study of my botanist friend, Dr. Vickie Sullivan: Eupatorium capillifolium — or dog fennel, a plant we rarely see growing in “civilized sites.”
 
Vickie beside dog fennel

Hundreds of busloads of tourists visit the Mercier Orchards each year, particularly during the holidays, and July 4 was no exception. We tarried long enough to buy a basket of peaches, a jar of mayhaw jelly, and my Biggle book, then returned to Blue Ridge to hunt for fairy crosses, or crystallized stones.

In the Pezrock store on East Main Street, I found a small specimen that satisfied my envee for a staurolite that symbolizes a story I had heard about the Cherokee tribe during my trip to Bryson City, North Carolina. I’d been intrigued by the ancient legend about Cherokees weeping over the loss of their homeland and moving west and their tears falling on the earth to crystallize and form fairy crosses. Nowadays, the crosses are used in meditation because it is said that their energy evokes lucid dreaming, even causes astral travel. 

Pezrock Store, Blue Ridge, GA
I like the idea that if a person keeps a fairy cross in his/her pocket or near the center of the body, stress is relieved. According to Mark Thomason, staurolites have been carried by President Teddy Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, and Thomas Edison, so you’re in good company if you carry one of the blackish stones. The Pezrock Store was another example of entrepreneurial effort and has a dazzling display of fossils, gems, jewelry, carved driftwood, petrified wood sinks and tables, teak wood, and home decor. I daresay that members of The Shark Tank group on television missed an opportunity by not buying into this enterprise!

Fairy Cross
At lunchtime in Blue Ridge, we could pick among six top notch restaurants owned by entrepreneurs Danny Melmar and Michelle Moran: Harvest on the Main, Cucina Rustica Italian Restaurant, La Pizzeria, The Blue Ridge Fry Shop, Blue Smoke BBQ, and Masseria. These energetic chefs grow a lot of their own produce and in their Italian restaurant, they make their own pasta. In addition, they often serve dinner at The Cook’s Farm, and, as one of the waitresses in Harvest on the Main said, “they seem to never sleep.”


Blue Ridge is a bustling mountain town that offers the best of north Georgia and the Appalachians amid lakes and trails open to outdoor enthusiasts. If you have a yen to scale heights, just up the road, Brasstown Bald, at 4800 foot elevation, offers higher adventure.


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