Dr Desmond Layne, associate professor of pomology, tree fruit specialist, and state program team leader for horticulture at Clemson University

Stone Fruit

Peaches in the Spotlight

Desmond R. Layne  dlayne@clemson.edu

In 2011, where news can get around the world in a split second, it is interesting to see how some stories capture the attention and passion of the public and sort of take on a life of their own. Then they spawn additional stories and so on. It is amazing to see! If you are a viewer of YouTube videos, you are probably familiar with the term “viral.” We’re not talking about plum pox virus, but something that captivates people’s attention and is widely watched — in the case of YouTube — literally around the world.

A case in point resulted from Clemson University’s annual Peach Field Day that was held on July 21 (note story in this issue by Editor Brian Sparks on page 10). Kim Severson, Atlanta Bureau Chief for the New York Times, came to our field day with the goal of tasting and learning about peaches and talking with growers from South Carolina and Georgia about their friendly rivalry. I had first talked with Kim back in 2009 when she was working on a story about the “underground fruit economy.” She had read my March 2009 American Fruit Grower column entitled “Being a Good Neighbor” and wanted to learn about gleaning.

This Story Has Got Legs

Living in Atlanta, Kim knew that Georgia was “The Peach State,” but she didn’t know that South Carolina is “The Tastier Peach State,” until she tasted our peaches. The result of her visit was a July 27 front-page article she titled “Peach Rivalry Becomes War Between the Tastes.” Between the Web-based and print versions, the New York Times reaches nearly 2 million readers each day. She wrote a timely, informative story that really struck a nerve. There were 249 reader comments left on their website!

One reader’s comment was, “The best peach will always be the peach you twist gently from your own tree and eat, on the spot, with juice running all down your front. Any other will be a crushing disappointment.” Another reader wrote, “Having sampled both the Georgia and South Carolina peach, I can state with utmost certainty that both of them tasted pretty darn good. One of joys of summer.”

You get the picture? Consumers are passionate about their peaches! As I perused some of the many comments on the New York Times website, my heart was warmed to hear nostalgic reckonings back to childhood days enjoying tree-ripe peaches in the summer. As a media savvy friend told me, “This story has got legs.”

Made For TV

Correspondent Taryn Winter Brill of the “CBS Early Show” tasting a tree-ripened, South Carolina peach. The “Georgia-South Carolina Peach War” segment aired on August 15.Shortly after the New York Times story came out, a producer from the “CBS Early Show” contacted me. She wanted to follow up with their own version for TV that would feature growers on their farms (both in South Carolina and Georgia) and actually involve tasting fruit. It was quite something to see the two shiny black Chevy Suburbans show up with the four folks from CBS. They were a team on a mission as they descended upon us at Titan Farms on August 8 to capture everything peachy.

The resulting story was featured on the “CBS Early Show” entitled “Georgia-South Carolina Peach War” that aired on August, 15. A media-watch analyst informed me that the estimated audience for this show was 2.3 million viewers. The highlight for me was correspondent Taryn Winter Brill’s reaction when she tasted our peach on camera. “That’s war!” she exclaimed.

On The Radio

While out evaluating peaches at my variety test block on August 17, I received a phone call from a producer at National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” They loved the CBS peach rivalry story and wanted to do an interview directly from the orchard. After I downloaded the “Report-It” Live app for my iPhone and we worked out some technical details, I was talking with host Melissa Block about how to pick the perfect peach and what to look for in the grocery store. She began the story by saying, “This time of year, we’re thinking Desmond Layne might just have the best job in America.” The producer told me that they have about 2.5 million listeners each day!

All in good fun, each of these stories helped reach an audience of more than 6 million. This is good for the industry. My hope is that all the free publicity has helped increase awareness, provide education, and stimulate an interest and excitement among consumers to pursue some delicious, healthy fruit before the season ends. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Maybe you can use stories such as these — or your own — to do battle with the unhealthy snack food industry. Have you got a website? Maybe you would like to link to these stories. Links to all three of them are available on my Everything About Peaches website. Maybe you can allow folks to provide their own input on how great your peaches are. In the end, the queen of fruits deserves the attention, doesn’t she?

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This column by Dr. Desmond R. Layne, “Peaches in the Spotlight” appeared in the September/October 2011 issue of The American Fruit Grower magazine on page 40.

Desmond R. Layne, Ph.D., is an associate professor of pomology, tree fruit specialist, and state program team leader for horticulture at Clemson University. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/peachdoctor. For more information, go to www.clemson.edu/peach.