The sight of a peach stand in South Carolina is not at all uncommon, and with good reason. California is the only state that grows more peaches. It is often thought that Georgia, which is known as the Peach State, grows the most peaches, but South Carolina grows nearly three times as many peaches as Georgia.
As I was doing a bit of Carolina peach research, I noticed a quote by writer and activist Alice Walker, she has written many great works including The Color Purple. It was in a speech she gave in 1982 that she said, “Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring and because it has fresh peaches in it.” I must admit I did not know much about Alice Walker, however that has changed and I am glad it has.
Another interesting point about the quote is that, it has also been contributed by some as being made by Thomas Walker. I did not know who Mr. Walker was, however, it did not take long in research to discover more about him. Thomas Walker was born in 1714 or 1715. He studied medicine at the College of William and Mary and he has a significant place in American history; besides being a physician, he was also a surveyor, explorer, soldier, colonizer, merchant, diplomat and statesman. He assisted President Washington in securing various treaties with Native American tribes.
In 1742 he moved his family to an estate called Castle Hill in Virginia and became friends with his new neighbor, Colonel Peter Jefferson. Sometime later the colonel became ill and Walker was his doctor for many months. Upon Colonel Jefferson’s death Walker discovered that he and two others close to Jefferson were named as executors of the Jefferson estate. It also fell upon them to see to the welfare of Colonel Jefferson's children, including the young Thomas Jefferson. That’s right: the third President of the United States of America. Thomas Jefferson enjoyed peaches as well and grew as many as 38 varieties on Monticello's South Orchard
There are many peach farmers in South Carolina. The McLeod family in McBee have orchards dating back to 1916. They now have 650 acres in production. During the harvest season they have over 200 people picking, grading, packing and getting everything ready to be shipped across the country as well as Canada. It’s a lot of hard work, and using every minute of sunlight is common during harvest.
McLeod Farms holds its annual Peach Festival in July each year, which is geared for family fun and lots of tasty treats made out of peaches.
There are other peach festivals. However, Gaffney in Cherokee County is the home of the official South Carolina Peach Festival. The July festival is unique in that it covers several days and features a wide range of colorful activities, including a peach eating contest, a beauty pageant, tractor pull, dessert contest, BBQ cook-off and a mud bog.
Gaffney is also home to the 135 foot Peachoid water tower. If you have ever traveled I-85 and gone past Gaffney you have seen it. It was built in 1981, and it holds one million gallons of water.
The Peachoid was the center of the popular Netflix show House of Cards, Season 1, Episode 3. The fate of the Peachoid was in question, but it survived and we all learned a valuable lesson about texting and driving.
Originally from China, the peach was first introduced to South Carolina by Spanish explorers in the 1500s. In 1984 the South Carolina legislature named the peach the official state fruit, celebrating more than 18,000 acres of peach farms in the state.
I love peaches, and I’m glad the farmers of South Carolina grow a lot of them. I’m not surprised that we have mystery about who said what. It all makes for good southern writing. From my observations and love of peaches, I shall contribute a quote to the mix: “Southern peaches are like Southern people, given time to mature they are perfectly sweet. Most of the time.”