Peach growing in Alabama dates all the way back to the mid-19th century and has provided income and alternatives for farmers in addition to other basics products, such as cotton and corn.
While Georgia is considered to be the “peach state’, this sweet delicacy has become this states’ leading commercial fruit.
When you travel to, through on the interstate, or around Clanton, County, Alabama, you will see its incredible presence.
Clanton, the county seat, is technically part of the Birmingham, -Hoover-Cullman Combined Statistical Area, and as such, is the geographic center of the state of Alabama.
In the year 2015, the yield for peach orchards exceeded a whopping 11 million pounds and produced over $6,200,000 in revenue.
However, everything is not limited just there, as public enterprises have sprung up along the popular U.S. Interstate 65 to sell these delicious peaches.
The earliest record of Peach growing in Alabama occurred in 1850, when Dr. H.V. Wooten from Lowndesboro, in Lowndes County, was reported to have planted five dozen peach trees.
However, right after the Civil War ended, an Irishman named Charles Stewart Parnell, set up a farm of nearly 1,500 acres in Chamber County, that was devoted entirely to this sweet-tasting fruit.
His first crop was in 1872, and he produced enough peaches not to market just in Alabama, but out of state as well.
He also produced peach brandy for the locals, and there were other leaders of the peach in the state.
Benjamin Winston Walker combined with a politician, Reuben Hold from Barbour County, who planted over 2,000 trees, and yielded more than a bushel per tree.
However, this was just the tip of the iceberg, as it started to intensify with the arrival of Scandinavian immigrants into the state.
In 1895 Theodore Thorson and John Peerson established the settlement of Thorsby, in Chilton County.
They choose this location because of its hilly landscape and perfect climate and begin to plant as early as 1898.
During this same time span, Mr. P. C. Smith from Georgia where peaches were already thriving, became the first horticulturist to raise peaches commercially in Clinton County.
Combined, these individuals established a significant number of orchards, as well as vineyards and berry fields.
Peach growing in Alabama at that time choose the “Elberta” as the variety of choice, and this industry took off.
After several very successful seasons, these growers founded the Thorsby Fruit and Truck Growers Association and cannery and employed over 150 workers.
However, it was not long before a series of setbacks hit in Alabama, as in 1908 a statewide prohibition forced local wineries to close down.
Then to add more problems, two other major setbacks occurred; the town burned down in 1914, and the beloved peach trees were destroyed by insects and disease.
However, other growers hang on in Chilton County and other places, and the introduction of pesticides happened.
The cotton crops at this time were being hit hard by the “boll weevil”, and many small farmers turned back to peaches.
In the year 1909 total production soared to over 1,400,000 bushels and reached 2,600,000 in 1915.
Even with all this success, the State of Alabama still only accounted for about 4 percent of the national yield, and trailed Georgia and Arkansas in the south.
However, the state of California still led the nation, as it produced three times the number of peaches than its nearest rival, Georgia.
Over time despite labor shortages and numerous growing issues, new varieties of peaches were introduced.
The Dixired and the Loring slowing started to replace the Elberta trees, and production peaked in 1960.
The Dixired is a good sized red skinned free stone fruit, with yellow flesh, and has an early season and strong resistance to leaf curl.
The Loring is considered to be excellent for commercial growers and has an extended shelf life.
In the year 1979, to help counter the shortages caused by labor shortages, and the bottoming out of the market, new steps were taken.
Local farmers formed the Chilton County Peach Growers Association
This later became part of the Alabama Fruit Growers Association, and after 1979, the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.
New growth of Peach growing in Alabama really started in 1974, with the first Peach Festival in Thorsby, after a bumper crop year.
This celebration included a parade with a “Peach Queen”, peach judging contests, concerts, and a baseball game.
The prize-winning peaches were delivered by Alabama Senators to President Harry Truman.
In the year 1952 this festival moved to Clanton, and the festival motto became “Chilton County Peaches are Tops”.
The pride continues to grow, as roadside markets opened up along the busy stretch of interstate between Birmingham and Montgomery.
In 1980 the Peach Park, founded by Gene Gray opened up, with a restaurant, gift shop, and pleasure garden.
In the year 1993, the city of Clanton constructed a 120-foot peach shaped water tower on exit 212, and if you are on US 65, you cannot miss it.
It holds a half million gallons of water, is painted yellow and orange, and features a dropping leaf, stem, and suture.
Peach growing in Alabama is reflected by the continuing popularity of the Clanton’s Annual Peach Festival.
For over 40 years now, the farm stand, restaurants, and gift shop at the Peach Park have all been prime destinations for travelers.
Alabama’s peach season, which runs from May through Labor Day, is just hitting its peak during this event, and today more than 70 varieties are sold.
This 74-year-old Festival is a weeklong and runs in June in Clanton, and in 2022 it is scheduled for June 19-26.
The park is open from mid-February until Christmas, 7 days a week.
Today, more than two-thirds of all the peaches in the state come from Chilton County, and here are some of what you will find at this Festival.
Peach Park, which started as a farm stand, and was opened in 1984 by Gene and Francis Gray.
It is now in its second generation and offers a lot of fun and good tastes
It offers the following:
Peach growing in Alabama is still behind the state of Georgia, but if you love peaches, you and your family need to see the Clanton Annual Peach Festival and Peach Park.
Alabama Peach Industry | Encyclopedia of Alabama
Peach Jam 2022 - Chilton County Chamber of Commerce - AL, AL (chiltonchamber.org)
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