Celebrating the Diamond Peach Anniversary

Published 4:11 pm Thursday, June 16, 2022

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By Elisabeth Altamirano-Smith | Community Columnist

In gift giving, diamonds have been the traditional gift of choice for 75th anniversaries, and what a diamond the peach has been to Chilton County! Next week, residents will celebrate the 75th annual Peach Festival (June 18-25) and enjoy activities, including art competition, cooking contest, beauty pageant, peach auction, Peach Run, Peach Jam and parade.

Understanding the heritage and culture of peach country is a lifelong experience (and an evolving one). In 1947, when the first peach festival took place, World War II had just ended and the economy was still rebuilding. Government spending had dropped by 75% and the first Peach Festival was the perfect time to celebrate what is right with America — community and the hard-working farmer.

As a child, I understood the Peach Festival only to mean that free candy was thrown at the parade and listened as older adults talked about stories of picking peaches during their youth. For many summers, my family visited Bentley’s warehouse-sized cooler to purchase boxes of overripe peaches used for canning. That cooler was the best place to “beat the summer heat,” and I still think about it on hot, humid summer days. I have also always been pleasantly surprised when traveling across Alabama, or even the Florida Panhandle to see a “Chilton County Peaches sold here” sign, it feels like seeing an old friend while being away from home.

As an adult, praying for peach farmers has become an essential part of community prayer requests because locals understand it comes at the cost of a family’s livelihood. During spring months, farmers go out into the orchards during freezing temperatures, build fires and fans to keep their trees warm. When most Chilton residents move on to celebrate fall, winter or spring holidays — the peach farmer and workers are outside, planting new trees, pruning, spraying and praying. Amid the yearlong process of work under the Southern sun and humidity, the farmer delves into his own pocket to pay in advance for the crop he hopes he will have. Costs for new trees, paying employees and purchasing materials ,such as fertilizers and spray, are some of the actions of faith that must be made in order for a successful peach harvest.

Supporting Peach Festival week by participating in events and activities is an act of local patriotism. It is a heritage and culture unique to Chilton and her people. Months of hard labor, money, time, prayers and presentation come to a head in the invitation and inclusion of everyone celebrating together at the Peach Festival. That is something more beautiful than a diamond.