Georgia family branches out from pecan groves with growing business

Roy Goodson (left) and his son David Goodson are hoping David’s son Drew one day will take the reins at Goodson Pecans. CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH PRICE

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Roy Goodson (left) and his son David Goodson are hoping David’s son Drew one day will take the reins at Goodson Pecans. CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH PRICE

Travel the gently rolling terrain of southwest Georgia and follow the progress of the fall harvest. In mid-November, plowed fields are lying fallow, peanuts harvested, grain bins filled. Cattle graze in pastures, and fields of planted pines alternate with acres of stately pecan groves and cotton, ready to be harvested.

Almost 300 acres of those pecan groves belong to the Goodson family. They tend about 2,500 trees. Hurricanes Irma and Michael dealt them a blow, costing them about 15 percent of their trees; they’ve since replanted and, 10 years from now, they should be harvesting those newly planted trees. It takes patience to be a pecan farmer.

The acreage is managed by Roy Goodson, a retired county extension director who’s now a full-time farmer. Pecan harvesting can begin in late September or October, but the majority of Goodson’s trees are late-maturing varieties ready for harvesting in early to mid-November.

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David Goodson launched Goodson Pecans’ growing line of gourmet-flavored pecans and pecan butters. CONTRIBUTED BY GOODSON PECANS

David Goodson launched Goodson Pecans’ growing line of gourmet-flavored pecans and pecan butters. CONTRIBUTED BY GOODSON PECANS

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David Goodson launched Goodson Pecans’ growing line of gourmet-flavored pecans and pecan butters. CONTRIBUTED BY GOODSON PECANS

Deciding when to harvest pecans depends on a number of factors, but primarily the farmer is looking for the nut’s husks to have split open, and the nuts to begin dropping to the ground. At that point, the Goodsons come in with a shaker, a tractor with long rubber-padded arms that grab a trunk or large branches and shake the nuts loose.

If the weather is right, the pecans will sit on the ground for two or three days to dry out, then two more tractors will come through, one with a bar-sweep and another with a v-sweep, to gather the pecans for the trip to the cleaning plant and, ultimately, to the farm’s customers.

It was David Goodson, Roy’s youngest son, who saw the potential for a broader market for the farm’s crop. “Locally, people loved Dad’s pecans,” David Goodson said, “but I could see us selling on a bigger scale. We talked about it for two years, and then finally jumped in.”

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Farmers know pecans are ready to harvest when the husks break open and pecans began to fall to the ground. CONTRIBUTED BY GOODSON PECANS

Farmers know pecans are ready to harvest when the husks break open and pecans began to fall to the ground. CONTRIBUTED BY GOODSON PECANS

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Farmers know pecans are ready to harvest when the husks break open and pecans began to fall to the ground. CONTRIBUTED BY GOODSON PECANS

Goodson Pecans started by selling shelled pecan halves and pieces online. Unadorned pecans soon were accompanied by flavored pecans, like cinnamon sugar and salty sweet. "Every year, we would add a new flavor," David said. "I love that process, seeing what we could do to increase interest in our products."

He said it was during a University of Georgia food entrepreneur workshop that the idea to create pecan butters popped into his head. Almond butter was trending. Why not pecan butter?

“When we started making our pecan butters, we took the step of moving into our own commercial facility in downtown Leesburg,” he said. “We’ve been very careful about how we’re growing. Small steps suit us. That fits with all we have to do, between the farm and living life as a family.”

The commercial facility is about 1,200 square feet, with a tiny retail shop at the front.

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Goodson Pecans of Leesburg started out selling shelled pecans in halves and pieces. CONTRIBUTED BY GOODSON PECANS

Goodson Pecans of Leesburg started out selling shelled pecans in halves and pieces. CONTRIBUTED BY GOODSON PECANS

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Goodson Pecans of Leesburg started out selling shelled pecans in halves and pieces. CONTRIBUTED BY GOODSON PECANS

David was working full-time in ministry before he started working in the family business for a living. “As the business has grown, my focus is on growing the store, and Dad’s has stayed on managing the farm,” he said. “It’s been exciting to see the business grow and flourish and, despite setbacks, to see the farm grow and flourish as well.”

These days, Goodson Pecans offers five varieties of pecan butter, including their newest, honey cinnamon. In addition to the shelled pecan halves and pieces, they sell 12 kinds of gourmet pecans, from sweet orange to toasted sriracha, as well as pecan rolls and brittle.

David said the creation of their honey cinnamon pecan butter was a team effort, sparked by a conversation with the employees of the commercial kitchen and store. “We were talking, and someone said what if we added honey and cinnamon to our pecan butter?” The resulting product was the grand prize winner in the 2018 Flavor of Georgia awards, and won a 2019 Good Food award.

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When pecans are ripe enough to harvest, a mechanical shaker makes quick work of getting most of the nuts out of the trees. CONTRIBUTED BY GOODSON PECANS

When pecans are ripe enough to harvest, a mechanical shaker makes quick work of getting most of the nuts out of the trees. CONTRIBUTED BY GOODSON PECANS

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When pecans are ripe enough to harvest, a mechanical shaker makes quick work of getting most of the nuts out of the trees. CONTRIBUTED BY GOODSON PECANS

When the Goodsons first branched out with these products, they were using only about 1 percent of the farm’s pecan production. Now, that number is up to 15 percent. They have four full-time employees in the kitchen/shop and three or four part-time helpers, as well.

Down the road, Goodson hopes they’ll be able to open a store near the pecan groves, and appeal to agritourists.

He sees the awards they’re winning as affirmation of the value of the hard work they’ve been putting in. “The same way my dad strove for quality in what he did when it came to pecans, I want to be sure we’re making a quality product,” he said. “These awards tell us we are hitting our goal.”

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