Letcher County’s fledgling agriculture industry is growing again as another local business jumps into the supermarket supply chain.
A year ago, Randy Polly had a vision and a pre-built storage building on the side of the road. Now he expects his pickled corn and other canned mountain staples to be on the shelves of seven stores by today.
“By January, I hope to be in 40,” said Polly, whose Polly Produce has now doubled the size of its building and added propane sales, animal feeds and some wholesale products for other businesses.
Polly is from Bottom Fork originally, and worked in a rock quarry at Dawsonville, Georgia, for 20 years, but moved back to Letcher County. He says he and his wife, Markie, liked to go to Gatlinburg on vacation, and he was pumping gas at the Tennessee line when “God gave me a vision.” The vision, he said, was to open a produce stand in Whitesburg.
Markie was a customer service manager at Publix and knew how hard the grocery business was.
“I told him he was crazy,” she said.
She used her contacts from the time she worked at Publix to set up a meeting with buyers for the chain in Tennessee.
“The stores in Tennessee may carry this, and stores in Florida and Georgia may carry it if it sells good,” she said.
Now Markie runs the store on Whitco Hill while Randy is on the road buying produce and other items to sell.
Polly said he has done so well at Whitesburg, he thought about opening other locations, but decided he should focus on his one place. He added propane last fall, and is planning to add another tank. He said he hadn’t thought of animal feed, but it has become one of his best sellers as people have begun to raise livestock and chickens once again. Two customers, he said, buy it by the truckload.
“If you or me think chicken feed, we think a bag. They think in tons,” he said.
The canning business is new, and the food comes from a family recipe. He said pickled corn and mixed pickles are well known in Kentucky, but he’s trying to get them into Publix stores in Tennessee, and hopefully, Georgia and Florida. He’s depending on the fact that it’s a traditional food to get them interested enough to try it.
“People in Georgia never heard of pickled corn,” he said.
Polly said a person can’t just start making pickles at home and sell them legally. Their process and facilities need to be inspected and approved before they can be put out in the public for sale. For that, he turned to CANE Kitchen in Whitesburg.
Brandon Fleming makes the pickles and cans them in CANE Kitchen’s commercial community kitchen, and Polly sells them.
“I’ve got 168 cases already sold, and I don’t have it made yet,” Polly said last week.
The first batch went out this week.