Hi there--I’m Lindsey, I’m 27 and live in Georgia. While my home state is the top peanut-producer in the US, I had never been to a peanut farm. You probably haven’t either, so when I was lucky enough to go on a trip to a Virginia peanut farm with the National Peanut Board, I thought you’d like to hear about the experience.
Jeffrey and Stephanie Pope, fourth generation peanut farmers, hosted me and my group and are some of the nicest people I’ve met.
We started our trip bright and early, taking a 90 minute bus ride from Richmond, to a little town called Drewryville. We pulled up to Hope & Harmony Farms, the Pope’s beautiful 1,700 acres of farmland, with a gorgeous white house with green shutters, a golden retriever sitting out front and stunning peanut fields in the background. I thought this perfectly picturesque scene had to be staged – but it wasn’t. This is really where Stephanie, Jeffrey and their two kids live.
First, we met Jeffrey. He talked about the Hope & Harmony Farms history and how his grandfather had farmed on the very same land he farms on today. Of course, his grandfather had to farm using mules and pitchforks, but now, many farmers like Jeffrey use high tech tractors with GPS technology to help improve their accuracy and produce the best yields. Using this advanced technology, the Popes can grow around 1.75 million pounds of peanuts per year.
We asked Jeffrey, why grow peanuts? Peanuts have nitrogen-fixing properties and are a great rotation crop for farmers. They are also extremely water efficient. To grow one ounce of peanuts, you need 4.7 gallons of water. Other nuts, like walnuts, take 73 gallons to grow one ounce and almonds require 80 gallons –it’s no wonder why farmers love growing peanuts.
Peanut farmers start their planting process in late April/early May. They keep the plants irrigated and healthy for nearly 5 months. When it’s time for harvest in late September/early October, they use a special tractor which has knives that cut the root underground and pull the peanut plant out of the ground. It then shakes the dirt off and inverts the peanut plant to dry in the sun before harvesting. Jeffrey dug up a row of peanuts for us and we were able to taste fresh-from-the-ground, green peanuts. At this point, the peanuts taste more beany than nutty; they are legumes after all!
We then met Stephanie, who handles the marketing and selling of the peanuts. She walked us over to her small 1,500 square foot facility completely run by 5-7 people. Everything is done by hand or with the assistance of antique equipment that Stephanie says is more reliable for her than computerized machines. Every order they receive is cooked and shipped that same day. They oil roast, custom season, package and label 500 - 700 pounds of peanuts per day.
After listening to both Jeffrey and Stephanie talk about their livelihood, it was apparent that they have deep respect and love for their land. They take pride in caring and tending to their farm– and it’s not easy work. Farmers truly are the backbone of the world, feeding themselves, their families and their communities.