In summer the fragrance of ripe peaches greets you at every local metro Atlanta farmers market The very air lures you in, tempting you to take home a handful, a bag full or a box full.
Chances are good those peaches are from Pearson Farm in Ft. Valley, Georgia. And alongside the peaches? You'll find bags of shelled pecans. The pecans and the peaches make excellent companions for the farm, complementing each other with their consecutive harvest seasons.
Al Pearson, the patriarch of Pearson Farm, says he enjoys having his peaches in all those farmers market because he likes being Atlanta’s local source for peaches. “We’ve got all these peaches, Atlanta has all those people, and it’s great that we can get them together.”
The farm's 1,800 acres of peach trees provide a harvest window from mid-May to mid-August. “I like to say that peaches are a ‘violent’ crop because there’s limited time to get the peaches picked. It’s hurry, hurry and you can have bad weather, or hail, or it’ll be 100 degrees and you’re itching from the fuzz. One peach season a year is enough.”
Those pecans, on the other hand, keep a far less demanding schedule. “We’ve been growing peaches and pecans together all my life. You harvest pecans during October, November and December. The weather is perfect and the orchard is the most comfortable place to be. If we pick up the pecans today, that’s ok. And if we pick up the pecans tomorrow, that’s ok, too.”
He says perhaps the biggest hardship in growing pecans is that you need binoculars to see the crop.
The farm has 2,500 acres of pecan trees. The farm has a small shelling plant and the shelled pecans are available through their website, at local farmers markets and at Kroger and Whole Foods.
Their peaches also make their way to local food banks. That’s a relationship that’s come out of a partnership with Otis Bray of Fayetteville who coordinates the pickup of three to four thousand pounds of peaches each Tuesday during peach season. The crop is distributed to women’s shelters, homeless shelters and children’s programs. “This is a treat for everyone because peaches don’t typically go into food banks because they’re so perishable.”
Pearson Farm started with Moses Winlock Pearson, Al Pearson’s great-grandfather, who began growing peaches there in 1885. Pearson and his sisters Ann and Peggy worked on the farm as children and in 1973 began a 35-year partnership operating the farm.
“In 2008 my son Lawton and I took over the operation. When I was growing up, I could ride a bicycle to every acre. Now we have property scattered as much as 25 miles away and there’s a lot of time spent going back and forth. There’s an expression: the best fertilizer is the boss’s footprints. Now it’s the boss’s tire tracks. We spend a lot of time riding and looking.”
This year’s pecan harvest will be for sale in late October. The nuts are sold in the shell or shelled. And the farm makes flavored pecans in several varieties including cinnamon roasted, Southern praline and savory seasoned.
The farm welcomes visitors throughout the year. In peach season, you can visit the packing shed to buy as many peaches as you can haul home and sit down a minute to enjoy homemade peach ice cream. “We’re off the beaten path so when people come to the packing shed to buy peaches, we let them rock a while and have some peach ice cream and cobbler. There’s no question in my mind it’s the best in the world.”