The Georgia Apple Festival may be in Ellijay, but for our favorite orchard experience you'll have to travel about 20 further on the Georgia Mountain Parkway to find a great place to pick your own apples. Or, depending on the season, peaches, nectarines, blueberries, sweet cherries and blackberries.
When Bill Mercier was 23 he purchased land near Blue Ridge in Fannin County, Georgia. It seemed a logical move since Mercier had been working at the Farmers Security Agency as an agricultural extension agent following his graduation from the University of Georgia with an agricultural degree. He married his wife Adele while still a student.
The 32 acres of land was purchased from Dr. C. G. Lloyd, owner of the Blue Ridge Pharmacy. Lloyd was harvesting some renown Red Delicious and Winesap scions on rootstock that had been planted before Bill Mercier was born. While the orchard was being developed Mercier also worked as Southeast property manager of the Tennessee Copper Co. (Cities Service Co.).
Using his knowledge of soils, Bill was successful in designing and implementing a plan to reforest the Copper Basic area and supervised the planting of over 300,000 pine trees a year to help rebuild the land in the Coppertown (Tennessee) area. During his work at the Tennessee Copper Company he developed a fertilizer pellet that is still in use today.
By 1972 Bill added a peach orchard and many more varieties of apples. He expanded the store with a line of jellies, jams and preserves, but the most important addition to the orchard had to be his son Tim Mercier, who was
Gourds make a colorful display
returning home from a stint in the Army. With Tim's help Bill expanded his apple u-pick to include peaches in the late 1970's.
While in the orchard one morning in 1975, Bill Mercier noticed a limb mutation on one of his Red Delicious trees. The apples on this branch matured much earlier than the other Red Delicious, even on the same rootstock. The Mercier Redchief New, Earlier Red Delicious Apple was born. In 1987 Tim added the bakery and in 1991 they began making those spectacular fried pies. In recent expansion new vendors have brought all kinds of wares into the store from toys to home decor. Bill Mercier died in 2007.
Today, Mercier Orchards, Inc. is the largest privately owned orchard in the state of Georgia. And the store keeps expanding with, for example, a fruit tasting area while the orchard has added more acreage, and the business expanded into new markets. If you're eating a fried pie at Chick-Fil-A or drinking apple cider at Whole Foods both began right here at Mercier Orchard in Blue Ridge.
On a typical autumn Saturday through the end of October you might be able to pick apples like the Red & Golden Delicious, Beni Shogun, Rome, Mutzu, Honey Crisp, Jonathan, Jonagold, & Jonaprince, all in the Mercier Orchard. For those concerned with healthy eating, a Mercier apple (and other fruits) are all grown with as few pesticides as possible. They only spray to control bugs that have been identified in their orchard.