Things can get confusing at times. You may have noticed that, I’m sure. Take for example, the Georgia License Plates and other State items where the State nickname is shown: The Peach State. And, yes, that is referred to as the State’s nickname. When I voted the other day they gave me a little sticker to put on my shirt to let everyone know I was a “Peach State” voter. I actually was a little embarrassed to let anyone know I voted for any of the riff- raft we have so I did not put it on.
It will soon be peach picking time in Georgia. I just bet the boxes have been ordered, the equipment oiled and greased and adjusted in the packing sheds. Contracts are being secured and key positions are being filled. Now, they just need to avoid that late freeze!
And, it may be a surprise to learn that peaches are not native to the US but in fact were brought here from China via Europe! This Chinese influx did not just recently get started and we have ingrained their influence into the fabric of our society! Every time we enjoy a peach, we owe it to the Chinese! And, China is the world’s largest producer of peaches.
To make the subject of peaches and the “Peach State” nick name even more confusing, Georgia is not the largest producer of peaches in the US. Not by a long spit of a peach seed. California is tops in production of peaches and the latest production figures I found said they produced 713,000 tons while South Carolina produced 95,000 tons and Georgia as a distant third with 36,000 tons. Georgia has about 1/20th of the California production of peaches. So you can see how misleading the Peach State name on our stuff could be.
California is referred to as the Golden State but produces more peaches than Georgia which calls itself the Peach State and Georgia produces fewer peaches than South Carolina which calls itself the Palmetto State. Georgia was the site of the first US gold rush so why wasn’t Georgia called the Golden State and California could rightly call itself the Peach State? Today, at Publix, they had peaches from Chile. I could not bring myself to buy any. I really prefer the peaches from Lane or Pearson or some other Peach County orchard. The Dickey peaches are pretty good, too.
Dickey packing shed in Musella is in operation after all these years and I usually get there once or twice a summer. I worked there one or two summers as well as a couple of the others near Fort Valley.
Some info says that the State Legislature was convinced to adopt the Peach State nickname because Georgia has the best peaches, not necessarily the most. I would not argue with the fact that we have better peaches than California. This convincing, though, may have been done by a few big peach growers who also were heavy political contributors. Hopefully that has cleared all of that up for the reader.
Just for the record, the UGA Center for Agribusiness & Economic Development does not list peaches in the top 10 of Georgia’s Commodities. Blueberries out- rank peaches in sales. Chickens are the top agriculture item. Beef is second. Cotton is the top crop. Peanut and pecans are high on the list. I believe Georgia is the leading producer of pecans, whether you call them P-Cons or P-Cans. Nice that we don’t have that pronunciation problem with peaches. Everyone seems to pronounce peaches the same.
But, in Sandy Point and vicinity, peaches are/were important and, back in the day, the fact that they required a lot of manual labor to pick and pack and ship made working in peaches an important summertime activity in a job scarce community. A number of orchards and packing houses were in operation during the months that school was out and many high school students worked in peaches to earn some school clothes money. Many adults did as well.
My grandmother worked in peaches in Zenith and Lee Pope when she was a girl and they had dormitories there for the workers to stay in. A building or two still stands in that area, I believe though unused for many years. I was in a packing shed last summer and there are still a number of people working there but a lot of the jobs are filled today by migrant workers.
Peaches are picked by hand and there is a lot of hard work involved. The peaches are then loaded into wagons pulled by tractors and brought to the packing shed. They are graded out, sent through washers and coolers and packed into shipping boxes that are loaded into refrigerated trucks or rail cars to be sent to their destination. Many of the packing sheds sell baskets and cartons of the already ripened fruit on site and make ice cream and other items to sell in their restaurants in some cases and have established gift shops to attract a larger audience. A fresh peach is not long for this world and if you can’t eat it you had best freeze it.
Peach Cobbler and fried peach pies made with the fresh peaches are my favorites. We won’t even talk about fresh peach ice cream! And a peach milk shake will “make a rabbit hug a hound”, as Rev. Hoke Hatcher use to say.
And there are the road side stands selling peaches and with their hand painted “Fresh Peaches” signs that can be found at nearly every exit on I-75 from Valdosta to Chattanooga. They tend to have boiled peanuts at those places as well.
When the crops were good, the packing would start as the trailers started arriving at the shed in the early afternoons and would continue into the night to try and pack and ship everything that was picked that day. The pickers arrived early and worked in the hot sun. As the sun went down, the packing sheds worked into the evenings and were cooler and there was a glow about them as the lights came on and the bugs darted around them into the night.
There was a social aspect and romances among the teenagers were common. Kids that had little money now had a paycheck, or in some cases, a little brown envelope with money. There were Nehi Orange drinks and Moon Pies. Camels and Pall Mall cigarettes could be seen lit up in the parking lots. An occasional beer was sipped in the backseat of the 1949 Ford where they could not be seen.
There was a flurry of activity from May to August and sometimes you could work at one packing shed for the early crops and another for the late crops. As time went on, packing sheds packed for other growers and there were fewer of them. And, fewer kids wanted to work there.
Those were fun times and kids learned a lot about life and work and having a responsibility. It was over every summer before it began it seemed. But there are a lot of kids-no-more who would not take anything for having had that experience. It would be a good experience for some today. And, one that many people would like to do just one more time.