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Column: Summer begins when the peaches are ripe
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

Prime time is approaching for peaches in Northeast Georgia. Indeed, Jaemor Farms at Alto is already picking Spring Prince and Spring Snow with Ruby Prince on the horizon.

The more popular peaches will arrive further into June and July.

The Hall County Extension Office says it’s a decent crop despite a late frost.

Georgia is called the Peach State although there are a couple of others that might argue with that title, including California, New Jersey and our neighbor South Carolina, which has produced twice as many. Nevertheless, local growers can boast of some of the highest quality fruit grown anywhere. 

The state has grown peaches since the 1700s, but it was after the Civil War that it earned the “Peach State” title.

While Middle Georgia produces the largest crop, peaches have a long history in Northeast Georgia. Little stands selling peaches once stood every few miles or so along what is now called Old Cornelia Highway.

Home peach orchards expanded into commercial farming in the 1870s. With the coming of the railroad, growers shipped bushels of their crops to hungry customers in the Northeast and other points.

Jaemor is by far the largest peach producer in Northeast Georgia, the farm operated by the Echols family that has been filling baskets since Jimmy Echols’s grandfather Tim planted the first trees in 1926. The operation is in its sixth generation and harvests 33 varieties of peaches on 150 acres on Ga. Highway 365 near Lula.

Another Echols, Phillip, owns Hilltop Orchards on the Banks-Hall counties line. Other than those, local peaches are mainly grown at small home orchards, according to the extension office.

At one time, there were several other peach orchards in Hall and Habersham counties. They included the Wrights, Shores, Griers, Wilbanks and Cornwallises. The late Chester Smith picked peaches from his orchard in northeast Hall County.

A lot of peach acreage fell by the wayside in the 1980s, when consecutive late freezes put some farmers out of business. Middle Georgia peaches, too, are vulnerable to weather challenges, but freezes are more common in the northern part of the state.

Grier Peach Orchard on Herring Mill Road in Habersham County is still active, according to its website. But few, if any other, large orchards are farmed.

Habersham was better known in yonder days for its apples. The apple name is all over the county, streets, businesses and the Apple Mountain Golf Club and Resort, where some apple trees line the fairways. Its apples were so well known that the Big Red Apple monument was erected in the 1920s at the Cornelia railroad depot.

Steven Patrick, Habersham County Extension agent, says there remains some apple activity, notably a heritage apple project in which studies are made of apple trees that have stood for decades.

Most apple production in Georgia today is in Northwest Georgia around Ellijay and Blue Ridge.

Apples arrive in late summer and into fall, but peaches are coming in now. The first day of summer is June 21, but the pleasant aroma of peach cobbler cooking in the oven or the whirring of peach ice cream churning in the freezer signal it’s already summertime in Northeast Georgia.

Lotto

Georgia’s lottery is entering its third decade. At one time, opposition was so loud it didn’t seem like it would ever happen. As early as the 1970s, a Coalition of Concerned Citizens campaigned against the lottery and any other form of gambling. The Northeast Georgia Council on Moral Affairs led by Charles Sutton had long fought the lottery.

The late Gov. Zell Miller directed much of the proceeds toward education, and much of the opposition evaporated. Still, 800 people rallied against the lottery at First Baptist Church in Gainesville before the Legislature acted.

It passed in 1992. Some jackpots have been more than a billion dollars. In its early days, even small winnings received news coverage. One of the first local winners of $2,500 made the headlines in The Times.


Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; 770-532-2326; or johnnyvardeman@gmail.com. His column publishes weekly.