Made in Georgia: Growing and selling peaches is a family tradition

Dickey Farms expects to harvest 6 million to 7 million pounds of peaches this year. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

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Dickey Farms expects to harvest 6 million to 7 million pounds of peaches this year. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Drive through the gently rolling terrain of Middle Georgia in June or July, and you’ll see pockets of peach trees, pruned to about 10 feet tall, branches heavy with ripening fruit. Head to the small community of Musella, about 20 miles west of Macon, and you’ll arrive at Georgia’s oldest peach packinghouse, and the home of Dickey Farms.

In the late 19th century, Robert L. Dickey was the postmaster, undertaker, depot agent and general store manager in Musella. In the late 1890s, he added peach farmer to the list, and in 1897 he began selling peaches from his 30 or so acres.

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Dickey Farms operates Georgia’s oldest packinghouse, established in 1897. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Dickey Farms operates Georgia’s oldest packinghouse, established in 1897. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Combined ShapeCaption
Dickey Farms operates Georgia’s oldest packinghouse, established in 1897. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

The Dickeys still are selling peaches 125 years later, and Robert Lee Dickey IV, known to all as Lee, is in charge.

Dickey started his career as a CPA in Atlanta, but returned to the farm about seven years ago. “Now, I work with my dad mainly,” he said, “but my grandfather is 94 and he still comes out to the farm every day.”

These days, the Dickeys farm about 1,000 acres across three counties in Middle Georgia: Crawford, Monroe and Peach. “Cold, hail and storms can all damage your peach crop, so you don’t want to have all your peaches in one place,” Dickey said. “With the trees in different areas, you’re pretty much assured of having a good crop.”

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Georgia’s peach harvest extends from the middle of May well into August. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Georgia’s peach harvest extends from the middle of May well into August. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

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Georgia’s peach harvest extends from the middle of May well into August. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Dickey said there should be lots of peaches available this year, especially the late-season freestone varieties, from which the pit easily is removed. The temperature dropped to 22 degrees in March, which “is cold enough to kill peach blossoms,” he said, “so the peach varieties that flower early had significant damage. But, it looks like we’ll have a good late crop.”

The Dickeys grow 25 varieties of peaches, extending the harvest from mid-May until the season runs out in mid- to late August. In a good year, they will harvest 6 million to 7 million pounds of peaches.

The popular heirloom Elberta peach might have been the one that started the peach industry in Georgia. It was found on a farm in Macon County in 1875 by Samuel H. Rumph, who named it after his wife, and it’s likely the variety of peach that the original Dickey was growing in the 1890s.

While the farm always is trying new varieties, the July Prince peach is Lee Dickey’s favorite. “Some peaches are great one year, and not as good the next,” he said. “July Prince is very consistent. It’s a really nice peach, with great flavor, and grows well, year in and year out.”

The farm still operates the packinghouse, which was built along the railroad line so that the fruit could be shipped quickly to faraway markets. It’s next door to Musella Gin & Cotton Co., and across the street from the few remaining buildings in downtown Musella. The packinghouse now has a dual purpose: still processing peaches, but also serving as a farm stand, where visitors can watch peaches being packed, buy peaches along with other local fruits and vegetables, and top off their visit with the farm’s soft-serve peach ice cream.

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The Dickey Farms packing shed also serves as the farm stand. Visitors can watch peaches being packed, and also enjoy peach ice cream. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

The Dickey Farms packing shed also serves as the farm stand. Visitors can watch peaches being packed, and also enjoy peach ice cream. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Combined ShapeCaption
The Dickey Farms packing shed also serves as the farm stand. Visitors can watch peaches being packed, and also enjoy peach ice cream. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

In the fall, when peach season is over, the farm sells pumpkins, and this year it will offer a corn maze and other on-farm activities. Then, there’s a lull until the end of March, when the farm’s strawberries are ready. That harvest continues until early June, overlapping with the start of a new peach season.

Dickey Farms peaches are available in grocery stores, as well as at many Atlanta area farmers markets from the Georgia Peach Truck, but many customers make a trip to the farm for their peaches. “If you buy a peach at our farm,” Dickey said, “it was picked that morning, or the day before.”

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Three generations of the Dickey family still operate Dickey Farms. Standing is Robert Lee Dickey IV, and seated are Robert Lee Dickey III (left) and Robert Lee Dickey Jr. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Three generations of the Dickey family still operate Dickey Farms. Standing is Robert Lee Dickey IV, and seated are Robert Lee Dickey III (left) and Robert Lee Dickey Jr. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Combined ShapeCaption
Three generations of the Dickey family still operate Dickey Farms. Standing is Robert Lee Dickey IV, and seated are Robert Lee Dickey III (left) and Robert Lee Dickey Jr. Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

Credit: Courtesy of Dickey Farms

“It’s great to grow something that people really love. We have people who have been coming here for decades,” he said. “They’ve learned the varieties they like, and they look forward to enjoying a good peach. Growing peaches is hard work, but it’s very rewarding to be growing something people really look forward to.”

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