The rain has fallen almost perfectly this year, and Trey Watson, a fruit tree grower in eastern Texas, is thankful. “It’s rained when we needed it,” Watson said. “And these trees look good.” Watson operates a nursery, Legg Creek Farm, that offers customers fruit trees and berry plants, all online. What started as a business with some local sales has blossomed into an ecommerce site with customers in almost every U.S. state. “I built my first website,” Watson said. “And it was terrible. It was ugly and hard to use. But somehow, with some Cragistlist postings, I got some traffic. I was shocked when someone actually ordered. I was so shocked that I hadn’t even figured out how to ship the trees!”
What followed was a crash course in digging fruit trees, packing them appropriately, and getting them to the 70 or so customers who ordered that first season. “It was chaos,” Watson said. “I knew about growing the trees but I didn’t know much else about getting the trees to their owners. I guess I never really thought it would take off.”
That was ten years ago. Watson says he’s learned a lot in that time span. He got a more professional website, he hired employees, including a couple who have stuck with him since nearly the beginning. Now he has thousands of customers and ships around 10,000 fruit trees and berry plants each season, using a process that was developed and perfected over time. “It’s taken some tweaking, but we are just about nearly a well-oiled machine,” he says. “Or as well-oiled as a bunch of humans working outside in an East Texas winter can be.”
His website, www.leggcreekfarm.com, using a PayPal check out system. Watson says that most of his traffic is typically via social media, but that seems to have changed some this year. He says his organic traffic has improved. “I think the pandemic has made a lot of people rethink some things,” he said. “We’ve had a ton of interest in our trees this year, and I think the lockdowns and shortages have a lot to do with that. I think people want to have more control over where their food comes from. Fruit trees and berry plants can be part of that equation.”
In U.S., the pandemic has sparked a renewed interest in home gardening and “hipsteading,” with large increases in seed sales, plants sales, and even a shortage of laying hens. According to Green House Grower magazine, Americans have spent nearly two hours more outside per day since the pandemic started. Much of this extra time has been spent in home improvement projects or gardening. Watson and other gardening or agricultural business owners like him are seeing the trend. “I’m glad to be part of helping people enjoy their time outdoors,” he said. “If I can help people with a little food security or self-reliance, I’m glad to be part of that.”
The internet and social media continue to shape the landscape of 2020, allowing farmers of all sizes to utilize technology to get their products in front of customers. “I’m so thankful to be able to grow things I can sell directly to people who want them,” Watson said. “It’s a crazy year with the pandemic and everything, but we are blessed to live in time when we can connect with people and share interests and products.” Watson says anyone can grow fruit. He recommends checking with your local county extension agent or your local nursery for fruit tree recommendations for a specific area. “There are fruit trees for every location and situation,” Watson said. “Even apartments can handle a fruit tree or two. There’s nothing like biting a tree fresh fruit from your own tree.”
This article originally published on GREY Journal.