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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Peanuts become and remain a huge cash crop in Georgia
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Roger Allen - photo by Special

    (Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)

    A 1951 publication from the National Fertilizer Association entitled “The Peanut: the Unpredictable Legume” declared that the true origin of peanuts was still being hotly debated.
    According to French botanist August Chevalier,"le probleme de le origine de I'Arachide a fait couler des flats d'encre." In English: “The problem of the origin of the peanut has made floods of ink flow.”
    This publication listed the origins of American peanuts: The varieties of “Runners” came from Africa; the Spanish and Valencia varieties came from Spain; and finally, the Virginia and Tennessee varieties came from Central America.
    Concerning their arrival in the North American colonies, it was very clear they’d been around a long time, according to Sir William Watson’s report, which was published in the "Philosophical Transactions" for October 1769.
    Watson declared, "I lay before you some pods of a vegetable and the oil pressed from them … the produce of a plant well known and much cultivated in the Southern colonies … where they are called groundnuts, or ground pease.”
    None other than Thomas Jefferson mentioned peanuts as being grown commercially  for local consumption in Virginia, but he also stated the crop was of little real significance. In fact, he grew his own crop of peanuts.
    Emily Burke wrote in her 1850 “Reminiscences of Georgia,” which recounted life on a slave plantation near Savannah, that “(g)reat quantities of peanuts are raised there, not only as an article of export, but to fatten swine upon.”
    In Bulloch County, one of its most famous residents was also its first farmer to grow peanuts as a commercial crop. Samuel Winkler Harville’s son, Henry Keebler Harville, also assisted other area farmers who began growing their own commercial peanut crops.
    Statistically, more than half of America’s peanut crop goes into making peanut butter. Believe it or not, it takes 540 peanuts to make each 12-ounce jar of peanut butter. Currently, Americans eat some 700,000 pounds of peanut butter per year.
    In 2012 and 2013, American farmers harvested almost 6.8 billion nuts and almost 4.2 billion pounds of peanuts. Of those peanuts, nearly half were grown by Georgia farmers. To be specific, Georgia harvested more than 3.3 billion pounds of nuts and almost 1.9 billion pounds of peanuts. Of those peanuts, Bulloch County’s farmers harvested 87.5 and 49.7 million pounds.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at rwasr1953@gmail.com.

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