When I bite into a sweet juicy Georgia peach, childhood memories of a picture perfect summer day in the country fill my mind. I'm riding with my father and grandfather through peach orchards planted by them on the rich, red clay soil of Crawford County. They stop to look, feel and taste the fruit to decide when to harvest, while I play barefoot in the shade of the spreading trees. I remember picking the ripest peach and as I bite through the soft fuzzy skin, juice trickles down my chin and arm. Later, in the fall, the same trio visits pecan orchards. My father picks up two nuts, cracks one with the other and shares the rich, crunchy meat with me. My grandmother and mother will soon use these nuts to make pecan pies and cakes for the coming holidays…
For five generations our family has farmed the red clay of Crawford County: growing peaches, pecans, asparagus, timber, cotton, corn and other crops. The duties involved in farming the land were willingly accepted as honorable, God given privileges as much then as they are today. All this began a little more than 100 years ago when my great-grandfather Moses Winlock Pearson, and his wife, Cornelia, moved to this area and planted the first peach trees for the Pearson family. There were six sons and six daughters in the family, and one son, my grandfather John, soon began to farm on his own, adding more land to the family holdings and planting more peaches.
John married Rosa Lee (“Mamma Lee”) and the family thrived. He loved to “figure,” to buy and sell land and to chew tobacco. She loved to write and was a consummate gardener, a devoted Primitive Baptist and an individualist. When asked “how are you doing Miss Rosa Lee?” she would simply answer “As I please….As I please.”
Eventually their youngest son Lawton married Laurie Lanier of Metter and began to work with the family farm in Zenith. These were my parents. When we outgrew our first house, next to the red brick schoolhouse, our family of five moved to the “big house” which had been Great Grandma Pearson's home, built in 1904. My parents were devoted to their family, their church, and their work. Hebron Church was just up the road and we enjoyed gospel sings, holiday celebrations, and vacations together. The old house was spacious and our yard and garden was a haven for my two sisters and me. Fig, apple, walnut, and pomegranate trees shaded the big yard bordered by azaleas and perennials. Crabapple and Mimosas bloomed and scuppernong vines climbed the arbor. Orchards of peaches interplanted with pecans bordered our home, so our yard was only defined by a change of vegetation.
We children worked every summer in the packing shed where we learned lessons in perseverance and tenacity: no matter how sticky and scratchy our arms became, no matter how tired we were or how late the hour, the peaches must be ready for timely shipping to New York and other points north. Later on, my sister Peggy and I would set up a makeshift roadside stand on Highway 341 to catch vacation traffic going south. A few boards and bricks and a handmade poster reading, “PEACHES STOP HERE LITTLE REBEL STAND” was all we needed to sell delicious peaches to a demanding public.
In 1973, I began operating the farm as Big 6 Farm, a partnership effort owned by my two sisters, Ann and Peggy, and me. We farmed together for 35 years until 2008, when my son, Lawton, and I purchased the business, continuing this centennial farming operation. His energy and ability tempered by my experience seems to be working to carry this family farm well into its second century.
With the constant threat of hail, freeze, tornadoes, and drought, it always seems a miracle that a crop is ever harvested. In 1955, my grandfather found two peaches on his entire farm, the rest were killed by frost. That memory reminds us that our fate is not in our hands. “You've got to have a lot of faith to be a farmer.” My dad often said. He was right. Successful farming today requires a blend of art, talent, hard work and faith. It is a real challenge to grow and deliver to the market Georgia peaches or golden pecans, but the rewards of doing that job well make the effort worthwhile.
- Al Pearson