Eat a peach (if you're lucky)

Tuesday June 20, 2017 08:14 pm EDT

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2017 has not been a good year for peaches. Warm temperatures and a late-winter frost (one of the many indirect byproducts of global climate change) has wiped out nearly 80 percent of the peach crop in both Georgia and South Carolina. It's sad news for peach lovers everywhere as we enter into the summer months, historically rich with cobblers, fruit salads and fresh juicy peaches right off a tree. But for local farmers and peach distributors like Brandon Smith, the situation is devastating.

As founder of the Georgia and Carolina Peach Trucks (www.georgiapeachtruck.com), Smith usually spends his summer roving up and down the East Coast, stopping at local farms, gardens and hardware centers to sell his little globes of goodness direct from Southern growers. The business, which began last year, has rapidly gained popularity in states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where peaches aren't locally available.But this year, things are different."It's made things confusing and chaotic for us, largely on the commercial end," Smith says of the shortage. "There's a lot of stakeholders and money involved, and the bills don't stop just because the peaches aren't available." Indeed, reports show that the shortage of peaches and blueberries wield a $300 million price tag for state farmers.Instead of panicking, however, Smith decided to work with a few friends in South Carolina to make the best of a bad situation. "I've had to get creative and think on my feet to overcome everything," he says. "Both states lost a significant amount of peaches, but because South Carolina grows nearly twice as many peaches as Georgia, we're able to rely on the farms out there to help cover some of our losses here.?۝As a result, the Georgia Peach Truck will forgo its coastal run in July and August. Instead, the Carolina Peach Truck will hit the road while the Georgia Peach Truck stays local, supplying Georgia farmers markets exclusively (lucky for us). "Local farmers markets are going to see less of an impact, but grocery store chains will face significant shortages this summer," Smith says. "The typical summer volume won't be reaching customers this year.?۝Smith obtains the bulk of his Georgia peaches from Dickey Farms, the nation's oldest continually running peach farm and packinghouse, located in Musella, Georgia. He gets his South Carolina peaches from several growers along the state's southern border. At each farm, Smith fills a 26-foot refrigerated box with palletized packs of peaches and begins his journey. When he needs to restock, he meets up with providers at various rendezvous points along the East Coast.Smith initially conceived of his peach trucks last year, while working as market program director for Dickey Farms and South Carolina's Watsonia Farms. Experienced in scheduling and staffing peach deliveries, he realized that the market was open for a traveling fruit truck. The peach trucks emerged as an extension of the local market program he was already doing. "I spent a month going from town to town, lining up stops and requesting permission to sell peaches at about 60 garden centers along the coast," Smith says. "We had an overwhelming reception during our first run. To our surprise, at every location we visited, people were waiting for the peaches to arrive. That was all the reassurance we needed.?۝Smith says his rather unorthodox profession is both exhilarating and exhausting. "I love traveling and telling the stories of the farms and their respected families, but it's still very hard work. You're constantly getting dirty and sweaty lifting these 2,000-pound pallets, but there's a unique brotherhood you form with the guys you're traveling with. We're essentially like the Rolling Stones out there when we're touring," he laughs.Currently in preparation for this year's cross-country trip, Smith is working with his partners in South Carolina to ensure there are enough peaches on tap to supply the national demand. Kicking off in July, his truck will make stops in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Virginia and Connecticut before closing out in Boston.

"It's been a challenging year, but it's exciting to have made it out of this crucible," Smith says. "Despite our shortages at the wholesale level, we're going to be reaching our street level consumers stronger and harder than ever before.?۝

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