At least this compromise comes with peaches

You can have Georgia-grown, or you can have Certified Organic. But almost never both.


Five years ago, you would have had trouble finding Georgia’s most iconic fruit at a local farmers market. Peaches, like Vidalia onions, are usually grown on large commercial farms and distributed nationally through a system that gives little preference to local retail outlets.

Then a guy named John Short came along. Since he grew up in Georgia’s peach country, when he moved to Atlanta he naturally assumed he could show up at any farmers market and buy a local peach. When he discovered that wasn’t the case, he called up his old friend Will McGeehy, a fifth-generation farmer in Crawford County, and worked out a way to transport and sell fresh-picked peaches at local farmers markets. Now in his fifth season, Short oversees a network of sellers that represent Pearson Farm all around Atlanta.

A true innovator, however, is rarely left alone, and Short is no longer the sole peach purveyor at Atlanta-area farmers markets. Inspired by Short’s success, a guy named Brandon Smith is now running a similar distribution team for Watsonia Farms peaches.

Smith gives credit where it’s due. He started as a member of the Pearson crew. “We were constantly asked about the availability of organic peaches,” Smith says. “I knew that there were large markets, such as Peachtree Road, that required organic or naturally grown certification. … And that’s how the conversation started with the Watsons.”

Like Pearson Farm, Watsonia Farms is run by a multigenerational farm family—currently Jerry, Joe and Jeph Watson. However, there are significant differences between the two products.

Pearson peaches are Georgia-grown. But they are raised conventionally—meaning the fruit is sprayed with pesticides. Because they are sold with the fuzz still on, they should be washed thoroughly before eaten.

Watsonia, on the other hand, offers Certified Organic fruit in addition to conventionally grown. But these are not Georgia peaches. They’re grown in Monetta, S.C, between Augusta and Columbia.

In a perfect world I’d prefer to buy pesticide-free Georgia peaches. Unfortunately, except for a few periodic peaches that pop up throughout the summer, unpredictably, from small farms, they are almost unheard of. So I’m forced to prioritize my allegiances: it’s either organic Watsonia peaches or Georgia-grown Pearson peaches. Not exactly Sophie’s Choice, but still a bit of a dilemma.

I don’t want to complain too much, though. After all, thanks to these peachy entrepreneurs I can buy local peaches at market, and I even have a choice of brands. And I have to admit, it’s hard to be too upset about the compromise, when either way I end up with a really fresh, really delicious piece of fruit.

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  • Kroviniu transportavimas

    I have born in Georgia’s peach country too!

  • John Short

    Correction: Our peaches are thoroughly rinsed and READY TO EAT at the market tables. We do not sell fuzzy peaches, every peach goes through a coolwater brush and wash. This heavy bath of fresh water (not recirculated) removes most of the fuzz, as evident in the fuzz layer in the rinsewater collection system.

    You are more than welcome to come visit the packing house and see for yourselves. While you are there, get a personal size cobbler covered in peach or pecan ice cream, kick back in a rocking chair and watch healthy, sweet Georgia peaches being packed in 1/2 bushel boxes.

    Our peaches are as minimally sprayed as possible to produce a beautiful, delicious fruit. We go to great lengths to not spray. Orchards are ‘scouted’ to look for pests and fungus, and we target spray only if those issues are observed. Also, we use softer sprays that are not as harsh as the chemicals you read about when an article mentions “the dirty dozen” – no blanket spray techniques here. Our Integrated Pest Management System ensures a quality product that is safe for consumption – laboratory tests of even our late season peaches that hang on the trees for many months compared to early season peaches have resulted in zero levels of pesticides and fungicides. We feel confident that ANY peach off our tables can be analyzed without exhibiting any levels of sprays. We are are all for organically grown food and Pearson makes efforts to keep ours as close to natural as possible. It is just a fact of peach growing that it’s very challenging to grow all natural on a large scale.

    Our 125+ year old heritage speaks for itself. For 5 generations, our commitment to sustainability has been passed down from father to son. Try our peaches and we know you’ll taste the difference.

    • Peach Lover

      I wait all year for my Pearson Farm Peaches which I buy weekly at Snellville Farmer’s market. I appreciate your post explaining the process. I know your peaches are not organic but to be honest I do not care. I wash them, I eat them, I am in heaven. I no longer buy peaches any other time or any other place, yours are the best in the metro area and the only peaches I eat. Can’t wait for the loose stones to start showing up! Keep up the good work, they are delicious and worth the wait!

  • Matt Liotta

    I understand most consumers don’t understand the specifics of different growing methodologies, post-harvest processing techniques, and the associated certifications of each. However, I would have hoped that a journalist would take the time to get these things correct and explain them to their readers.

    Certified organic does not mean a product is pesticide-free. In fact, many certified organic products contain more pesticide residual than conventional products. Worse, certified organic only speaks to the growing methodology and not the post-harvest processing that may be involved. This is why so many package certified organic products smell of chlorine when you open them. They may have been grown without synthetic fertilizers, but plenty of synthetic chemicals where involved in getting that product to market. It is sad that certified organic has been turned into a mostly meaningless label. Luckily, the label pesticide-free actuals means what you think it does. Consumers should start demanding their products be pesticide-free even the ones that are grown organically.

    • Deborah Geering

      Matt, you are correct. Certified Organic does not mean pesticide-free, as there are many chemicals, derived from natural sources, that are approved for use on crops as organic pesticides. Technically speaking, if you spray onion or pepper water on fruit trees or diluted vinegar on an ant hill, you are using a pesticide. I think it’s also important to point out that conventional farmers are applying chemicals (both naturally and artificially derived) that have been approved for use on their crops. Still, my personal preference is to purchase Georgia-grown, Certified Organic produce when it’s available—and to thoroughly wash conventionally grown produce when it isn’t.

    • Frank

      There is a big difference between pesticides made from compost tea and those manufactured by monsanto. I agree certified organic is a joke most consumers are unaware of. My practices are way beyond organic. I am Biodynamic and perhaps beyond that.

  • Cheryl Wilson

    I think there’s the impression that if a crop is grown conventionally, not Certified Organic, that it is automatically doused with chemicals. This is a misconception. Chemical inputs are expensive, and the farmers I speak with – especially the small- to mid-sized farmers – do not use chemicals indiscriminately. Mainly it would be too expensive. Most are using integrated pest management techniques, and many are constantly trying new, non-chemical methods to reduce pest & disease pressure, while preserving soil fertility. I have a great deal of respect for all farmers – organic and conventional – who are operating on a relatively small scale, and bringing quality local produce to the marketplace. It’s a lot more difficult that people realize.

  • Cheryl Wilson

    “than” people realize….

    Also, I should say that I hate to see an article like this, which basically casts one of my favorite family farms in a negative light – as if Pearson peaches are a “compromise.”

    Pearson is one of the oldest continuously operating peach farms in Georgia; owned by the same family for 100 years; produces a consistently high quality product; has an amazing legacy of good labor practices and land stewardship; the farmers are highly professional, educated and just super-nice folks. There is tremendous risk in their business, and the fact that they prevail is a testament to the farmers’ passion and sheer tenacity.

    Deborah Geering’s comments are simply ignorant.

    Has she met the farmers? Visited the farms? Learned anything about what goes into peach production and distribution?

    Unless you want *NO* peaches, maybe it would be a good idea to dig a little deeper before you start painting an unfair picture which could hurt a farm’s business. This ain’t California, with dozens of organic fruit growers at every market. There are only TWO farms that sell peaches at the Atlanta markets. Our local farms have it hard enough without this type of ridiculous article.

    • Nash

      I felt that Deborah’s blog was very balanced and well written. It WAS a tough decision as to which peaches to buy this last weekend, and I’m sure that is what she is trying to convey.

      Any food bought from any source should be washed thoroughly, even organically grown, as some of the practices allowed under the “organic” umbrella are actually quite toxic.

      If you read this blog at all you’d know that Deborah visits lots of farms and is very well informed on the subject. Ignorant is one thing she is not.

      I suggest you reread the article, talk to some folks in the local farming community, and perhaps gain some additional insight before leaving such an unnecessary and hurtful post.

  • Amy

    I think Ms. Geering raises a good point. Ideally, we would like to eat organics. But at the end of the day, nothing beats a delicious peach. A taste test would be fun…

  • Cheryl Wilson

    I apologize for calling Deborah ignorant – this came across as a personal attack, which was unwarranted.

    However, it’s just upsetting to see a local farm – which I know to be a very fine operation – cast in a negative light. I am no fan of pesticides, and buy organic as much as possible. But I don’t think the article was fair. It came across as comparing the ONLY two peach farms we have at the markets, with the non-organic grower looking inferior and having to defend himself in the comments section.

    There was no fair examination of WHY Pearson is not certified organic, whether their product carries pesticide residues of any kind, or any insight into the problem of organic certification. I just think it’s an important subject that deserves more than a superficial account of the shopper’s dilemma. Yes, I agree that it’s a dilemma, but a balanced article would have included a conversation with the farmer who is not certified organic.