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Ants, peanuts are Ashburn’s claim to fame

Q: Why is there a sculpture of a giant peanut along I-75 in south Georgia’s Ashburn?

A: To say that the city of Ashburn has a love for peanuts would be stating the obvious; nothing says love quite like a 20-foot-tall peanut monument towering over a major interstate. However, the roots of the world’s largest peanut run deeper than a tribute to Georgia’s official state crop.

The monument, designed by A.R. Smith Jr. and sponsored by the Georgia Peanut Commission,was erected in 1975. It was dedicated in memory of Nora Lawrence Smith, who died in 1971 after serving as editor and publisher of The Wiregrass Farmer, one of the area’s oldest newspapers, according to roadsideamerica.com.

Smith, the daughter of The Wiregrass Farmer founder Joe Lawrence, covered Ashburn’s blossoming agricultural economy. The monument celebrates and publicizes Ashburn’s successful ventures in agriculture and industry, chief among which is – you guessed it – peanut production.

Nestled in south Georgia’s Turner County, Ashburn is in the heart of peanut country. The city is home to what is believed to be the world’s largest peanut shelling plant, operated by Golden Peanut, an international company. Golden Peanut is among Ashburn’s largest employers.

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Gail Walls, a member of the local merchants’ association, said the monument attracts visitors from all over the country. Even actors Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis of “That ’70s Show” fame snapped a selfie with the monument in 2014.

“Occasionally, we’ll see where celebrities stop and have their picture made,” Walls said. “They may post it somewhere saying that they were at the [world’s] largest peanut.”

But Ashburn’s quirky fame does not end with the monument. On the last full weekend of every March, the city hosts the Fire Ant Festival (fireantfestival.com), which features live music, a lip sync contest, a barbecue cook-off, a professional art show and other standard carnival attractions.

Walls, who also serves as the Fire Ant Festival committee treasurer, said the festival was dreamed up over 20 years ago as another way to promote the local economy. The members gathered ideas by attending various festivals all over the state, and came up with the fire ant motif to poke fun at a common pest problem.

The festival incorporates a new theme every year. Past themes have included “Fire Ant 500,” a race car theme, and “Star Trek Ant-erprise.” The theme for the 2018 festival is “Fire Ant Luau.”

The monument and festival attract out-of-towners to the city, which is located about 160 miles south of Atlanta.

“We’re very proud of both of them,” Walls said.

If you’re new in town or have questions about this special place we call home, ask us! E-mail q&a@ajc.com or call 404-222-2002.

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