Virginia Peanuts have a rich history in the State of Virginia and beyond. From Colonial times to present day, peanuts and the state of Virginia have gone hand and hand. Without the work done by George Washington Carver and Benjamin Hicks however, we might not have the luxury of super crunchy Virginia Peanuts today. In fact, peanuts have become such a staple in our grocery stores today that we rarely stop to think about how they got there. From humble origins to tasty snacking around the world, the mighty peanut has come a long way.
Though the peanut plant probably originated in Peru or Brazil and later grown in Mexico when the Spanish colonists arrived, peanuts were later brought to the southern United States by enslaved West Africans beginning in the 1700s. When they first arrived in America, peanuts were considered a curiosity and a great animal feed, but the turn of the century would boost new technology as well as the research of renowned biologist George Washington Carver, who found around 300 different uses for peanuts and his work transformed the economy of eastern Virginia, and the state as a whole.
George Washington Carver, pictured above, was born a slave and kidnapped as an infant with his mother and they were re-sold into slavery in the deep south. Following the abolition of slavery, George Washington Carver's former owner tracked him down and raised and educated him. Carver went on to become an artist, educator, chemist, botanist and the man who raised the peanut from a lowly legume to a cash crop that saved the South's farming economy. His development of uses for the peanut run all the way from soup to soap. Raw peanuts, roasted peanuts, peanuts galore- without Carver's creativity, the peanut products we know and love today might never have come to be.
Harvesting and Selling Virginia Peanuts
In the late 1890s, Benjamin Hicks, an African American farmer from Southampton County, invented a gasoline-powered machine for stemming and cleaning peanuts. He successfully patented the device but faced a lawsuit from one of the most powerful farm-equipment companies of the time. Hicks won in court in 1901, and the picker he invented helped modernize peanut farming. It was not until the 1900’s when peanuts became extensively grown, partially because they were regarded as food for the poor, and because growing and harvesting were slow and difficult until labor-saving equipment was invented around the turn of the century.
Peanuts have been a part of Virginia’s history dating back to the first settlers. The first known commercial peanut crop of Virginia originated in Sussex County, near the present-day town of Waverly, in 1842. With sandy loam soils ideal for growing peanuts, Virginia quickly became the nation’s leading producer over the next forty years. In 1902, fourteen of the twenty peanut factories operating in the United States were in Western Tidewater Virginia. The production of peanuts in Virginia is concentrated in 8 or 9 counties in the southeastern corner of the state. Peanuts have dug their roots into fields and towns of southeastern Virginia, particularly the counties of Dinwiddie, Greensville, Prince George, Sussex, Surry, Isle of Wight and Southampton and the city of Suffolk. This is Peanut Country.
Virginia Peanuts Today
Since the late nineteenth century, peanuts have shaped every part of life in Western Tidewater, including Suffolk, which has been the center of peanut processing and marketing since the 1880s, and Southampton County, which is the heart of peanut farming in Virginia, even today.
Peanuts grown in Virginia are currently produced on about 26,0000 acres of land each year. Depending on the year, acreage ranges from this year's level to around 26,0000 acres, to averaging in the low 18,000-acre range. Of the 26,000 acres grown in 2017, 24,850 of those acres were Virginia peanuts with the remaining acres being the runner variety. Prior to the change in present legislation in 2002, Virginia typically grew 75,000 acres each year. From raw peanuts to roasted, Virginia is where it happens.
The tradition of peanuts in Virginia is not the only thing that keeps Virginia Peanuts on the rise. Of the four types of peanuts grown in the United States—Valencia, Runner, Spanish and Virginia—Virginia Peanuts are the most highly prized for their extraordinarily large kernels (the highest quality and largest size or grade of Virginia peanuts are known as “super extra large”). Contrary to its name, the Virginia-type peanut is also grown in several other states throughout the United States. Here at Hope & Harmony Farms we grow an estimated 1.5 million pounds of peanuts each year. Peanuts are typically a five-month crop once they have been planted. Planting season typically begins during the first week of May and harvest typically commences in September. To preserve the soil and ensure future generations can farm the land, peanuts are rotated with other crops periodically.
Peanuts are no longer just simple food or animal feed, but considered to be a superfood (the mighty peanut’s nutrition facts might just surprise you) and gourmets everywhere will agree Virginia Peanuts are the absolute best of the best! Hope and Harmony farms is based in the heart of Virginia, where we’ve been a part of the Virginia Peanut tradition for four generations. We’ve learned a thing or two about Virginia Peanuts and how to use them in that time.