Monday, July 27, 2015
Georgia has the license plate. Gaffney has the Peachoid. But when it comes to being the peachy king, Spartanburg wears the crown. May through September, peach lovers look to pick the freshest, tastiest, most chin dripping peach around. If travelers are fortunate—and smart—they’ll find themselves in Spartanburg County, the sweet spot for peaches. The Hub City, intersecting Interstates 26 and 85, was once the nation’s peach capitol and continues to keep its peach game strong all summer long.
Since the 1800s, peaches have ruled in our area with the prosperity of family farms. When the railroad came to Spartanburg, it gave the town a nickname and the opportunity to ship its famous peaches to other parts of the nation. In pre-highway days, peach packing sheds were built along Spartanburg’s railways to easily load and ship them long distances.
The 1920s brought a commercial boom for Spartanburg’s peach orchards. A 1939 peach map of Spartanburg County from the Chamber of Commerce indicated 233 peach sheds and 3 million peach trees in our area. By the 1950s, Spartanburg was harvesting and shipping millions of bushels each year to every U.S. state as well as Canada, Cuba and Mexico. South Carolina Governor James F. Byrnes declared in a 1951 speech that more peaches were shipped from Spartanburg than any other place in the world—including our neighbor to the south (here’s looking at you, Georgia).
The secret of Spartanburg County’s peach success—next to hard work—is the friendly climate in the Piedmont. The mountains along the North Carolina line push cooler air into the valleys, increasing the all-important chill time in the winter, and block the coldest winds that blow in from the west.
“In Spartanburg, Mother Nature is kind to peaches,” said Harriet Belue, second-generation co-owner of Belue Farms. Her parents, James and Betty Belue, started the family peach business in 1955 with 45 acres of peach trees and one packing shed. Belue credits Spartanburg’s rich soil and access to readily successful farmland for peach growing success. “Peaches were our family’s livelihood, but they quickly grew into a business,” she said.
Spartanburg native Marianna Black Habisreutinger agrees. Her father, Paul Black, was one of Spartanburg County’s most prolific peach pioneers. “Farming is an agricultural gamble, but luckily Spartanburg is the most desirable location for perfect peaches,” she said. When her father became president of the National Peach Council, he brought the convention to the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium in 1953, much to the delight of peach promoters. These days, take a tour and you’ll find that Spartanburg remains the ultimate peach lovers’ destination.
With over 20 varieties around these parts, travelers should prepare their peach know-how, which can be picked up at any of the adorable and historical town markets and roadside stands in Spartanburg. Do you want white or yellow? Freestone or clingstone? Is Elberta or Red Globe best for a pie? Locals say white is a little sweeter, and clingstones are best in the early summer, but you really can’t go wrong. And considering the health benefits of vitamins A and C and only 30 calories, it’s a good idea to fill a white paper bag or wooden basket with a few pounds of peaches and add them to your backseat snacks.
Spartanburg County offers visitors over 800 square miles of sweet, Southern gorgeousness: the freshness of trees and natural water, houses and people as charming as they come. There’s no shortage of back roads and shortcuts to be had. If you live here, then you know about eight ways to get to one place. These are the areas where you’ll see roadside produce stands with a home-painted cardboard signs waving in the hot breeze, offering a new perspective to the ordinary pit stop.
There’s lots of peach love here. Multi-generation farming families still cultivate their land and put out the best peaches around. Look for Abbott Farms, Belue Farms, Cooley Farms, and Gramling Farms for fresh-off-the-tree produce. If you’re headed downtown, Bellews Market offers rustic local flair and the Hub City Farmers’ Market has awesome produce picks in a festive atmosphere. No matter where summer travel takes you, make Spartanburg your stop for peaches.
Meredith Hardwicke, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
Meredith Hardwicke is a writer of copy, fiction, and features. A Spartanburg native, she travels often but always comes home.