Page 23 - 2018Magazine3
P. 23

Rebuilding the

                    Georgia Peach


                  Three fifth­generation peach farmers are leveraging

             cooperation among growers – and the sweet taste of local

                          fruit – to revive the state’s peach industry.

                                               [ By Don Sadler ]

                       f you ask someone to name one thing that the state of Georgia is famous
                       for, there’s a good chance they’ll say, “Peaches!” Of course, Georgia has been
                       known globally for growing sweet peaches. But Georgia’s reputation as the
                  IPeach Capital of the World had started to take a hit as the 20th century came
                  to a close. Peaches grown in Georgia still tasted better than those grown
                  anywhere else in the world. But due to a variety of factors, it had become nearly
                  impossible for shoppers to tell a Georgia peach from any other type of peach
                  when browsing the produce section of their favorite grocery store.
                    The decline of the Georgia peach industry goes back decades, at least to the
                  1980s, explains Will McGehee, co-founder of The Genuine Georgia Group, LLC,
                  which Will and his father Bill formed in 2008 to help sell and market their family
                  farm’s peaches. “The peak of the Georgia peach industry was actually during the
                  1910s and 1920s, when there were at least 40 packing houses here in Fort Valley,”
                  he says.
                    But a lot of family peach farms didn’t make it through the Great Depression,
                  which started a long, slow slide in the state’s peach industry. Throughout the
                  1980s and 1990s, fewer and fewer peach trees were being planted in Georgia. “At
                  this point, peaches were a declining industry in the state of Georgia,” says Kent
                  Hoots, a partner in Genuine Georgia who, like Will, grew up on a family peach
                  farm in south Georgia.
                    McGehee explains that one of the main causes of the decline of the Georgia
                  peach industry was the fact that his and other Georgia family farms’ peaches
                  were being sold to retailers by brokers who sold peaches from farms throughout
                  the southeast, including farms in Florida and South Carolina.
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