Spotlight: The Great American Cobbler Company

Members, Russ and Carra Goodman, standing in front of The Great American Cobbler Company posters.

AgSouth Customer Spotlight: The Great American Cobbler Company

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There is something deeply comforting about a fresh, warm cobbler from the oven. An iconic American dessert that reminds us of home. For Russ Goodman and his family, cobbler isn’t just a comfort food; it represents the reward from years of hard work and weathered storms on his farming operation and embodies his passion for serving and promoting the American farmer.

American Cobbler

Russ Goodman and his wife, Carra, along with Carra’s parents Johnny and Joy Crumbley, operate Cogdell Berry Farm where they grow 500 acres of blueberries, run their own fresh packing facility, and have most recently expanded into making and selling cobblers under The Great American Cobbler Company. The Great American Cobbler Company cobblers can be found in over 6,000 stores nationwide including Walmart, Publix, Piggly Wiggly, Food Lion, Winn-Dixie, Ingles, and Harris Teeter. Impressive, right? Especially when you realize that those cobblers are made on a seventh-generation family farm in a small town in South Georgia.

A Chance Worth Taking

Russ Goodman grew up on his family’s row crop farm in Brookfield, Georgia, and always knew that he wanted to go back home to farm himself. While attending the University of Georgia, he met a special young lady– Miss Carra Crumbley. “My life took a diversion,” Russ says with a laugh. Carra came from a family farm too, so when the couple got married after college, they chose to settle near her family farm in Cogdell, Georgia. Carra’s family was farming tobacco, cotton, cows, and soybeans in the late 90’s when they moved back. The family was ready to work out a transition plan, so the couple, along with Carra’s parents Joy and Johnny Crumbley, bought out the family to keep the farm with a goal to carry on the family legacy and keep the farm in production. They began to research a new, up-and-coming crop being grown in the area – blueberries. Blueberries were of growing interest in the consumer market because of their rich antioxidants and positive health effects. They were traditionally grown farther south in Florida, and north in New Jersey. UGA research had determined that the soil type and climate in South Georgia worked really well for growing blueberries. “And they were a crop that we could be proud of!” Carra exclaims. So, in 2001, Russ and Carra along with her parents Johnny and Joy Crumbley, took a leap of faith and planted blueberry bushes on the family farm. Named for Joy’s family, which settled there in 1915, Cogdell Berry Farm was beginning a new chapter. Initially their fruit sales were very profitable; but as imports increased, more growers got into blueberry production and higher volumes of fruit on the market forced the price down. In an effort to become more efficient, Russ determined they were producing a volume of fruit that could justify starting their own blueberry packing facility. Their new packing line opened in 2011, and Russ laughingly describes the debacle of the first day, “We swept up more blueberries off the floor than we packed!” Over the next few years, the family learned, changed, adapted, and tweaked their blueberry operation. They have re-planted, expanded, transitioned to new varieties, and added machine harvesting because finding labor is difficult. There have been some really challenging years that they have worked through as a family, but it has made them all the stronger.

From Trash to Treasure

One thing Russ will tell you about himself is that he is always striving and thinking about the future. Although the packing line was a good addition to the operation, the fresh market has high expectations of fruit quality, and they found themselves throwing a lot of good blueberries away. They tried numerous ways to use the berries - making jellies, giving away berries and feeding berries to the cows. They even tried making blueberry wine! Nothing seemed to stick, and they hated seeing all that sweet, fresh fruit go to waste. One day the light bulb came on. “My mother makes really, really good cobblers. So, we thought, why don’t we get into a business we know nothing about – frozen foods!” Carra says with a laugh. They came up with a plan for making cobblers, approached AgSouth with the idea, and when lender Jon Harris looked at the numbers said, “Yes, we can try this!” In 2020, The Great American Cobbler Company was born. The Goodman’s partnered with Russ’s mom Donna Kane, and Joy’s cousin Ben and Tina Strickland to start the company, making frozen cobblers using Joy’s recipe and the Strickland’s blackberries. Once they perfected the process, they had a use for all those excess blueberries as well. Now they pride themselves on the cobbler berries being the ones that are “too sweet to ship!” In two years, they have quickly grown their local business into a national brand sold in over 6,000 grocery stores nationwide. The frozen, ready-to-bake blueberry, blackberry, peach, cherry, strawberry, and apple cobblers are all proudly made in Homerville, GA.

The Value of Relationship

After Russ moved to Homerville, it was natural for him to call his friend Jon Harris, a loan officer at AgSouth Farm Credit, when he needed some financial assistance with a plan for farm transition and their new blueberry operation. Their friendship began at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, and grew during their time as classmates and fraternity brothers at the University of Georgia. As two young men starting out in their careers, the opportunity to work together professionally blossomed into partnership that has been invaluable to the Goodman family’s farm. “It’s important to have a lender that understands agriculture. Things don’t always work out the way you plan because Mother Nature is involved” says Russ. AgSouth has been with them every step of the way, in every expansion to their operation. “Without AgSouth we would never have been able to hang on to family land, expand our business, and make the Cobbler Company a reality,” says Russ. He says of his relationship with his lender and long-time friend Jon Harris, in Blackshear, Georgia, “You need a banker there with you as a partner, helping in good times and bad. We have a relationship built on trust, integrity, and communication.”

An Advocate in Atlanta

One of Russ’ deepest passions is for the American farmer and protecting the future of agriculture. The family farm is a promise you keep to the generations before you and a covenant you make for the ones that come behind you,” says Russ. His personal value of the family farm, combined with his belief in the importance of taking chances, led him to the political arena. Three years ago, Goodman seized a unique opportunity to advocate for his community and the American Farmer by running for the Georgia State Senate. He was elected and later appointed the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee – a position that he feels deep responsibility for doing well. “A great threat to the future of agriculture is people in leadership making laws and passing regulations that don’t understand what it takes to get food on the table.” His goal is to help his fellow farmers by being a voice for them in the room when critical decisions are made. It’s a job he takes seriously, and the sacrifice of time away from his own farm is one he proudly chooses.

So Much to Be Proud Of

Russ and Carra Goodman have worked hard and accomplished so much with their farm operation. But their greatest success? They say simply, “we are still standing.” On their farm they have endured market collapses, insect infestation, labor shortages, freezes, and hurricanes. Through it all, they are still in business, still farming. He is also proud of The Cobbler Company not because of its success, but because it’s a brand that he can use to support his community and the American farmer. The company has created jobs in their small town that has a 40% poverty rate. They buy all their fruit from other American farmers – apple growers in Michigan and New York, peach growers in South Carolina, cherry growers in Washington and Oregon, and blueberry and blackberry growers in Georgia. He practices the support that he preaches to others. “When you buy our cobbler, you’re not just supporting a farm family, but our whole rural community,” Russ says proudly. Like many farmers who have weathered years of challenges, Russ is full of wisdom. He shares, “Time is limited in quantity, but it is our most valuable commodity on earth. Don’t waste it – try to do something to help others, make a difference, and leave the world better than you found it.” From the blueberry field to the halls of the Georgia State Capitol, thank you Russ for being and supporting the great American farmer.