Publication by DPDF 2009 “Critical Agrarian Studies” Fellow William Okie:
The Georgia peach boom around the turn of the twentieth century was often hailed as a successful experiment in diversification. Peach growers, the story went, threw off the tyranny of King Cotton by pledging their allegiance to the “Queen of Fruits.” This portrayal is partly true; unlike other proposed alternatives to cotton, peaches flourished in many places. But the history of the “labor problem” in the Georgia peach belt makes it clear that peach production depended on the cotton economy. Peaches required large amounts of labor only at harvest time, which came during a lull in the cotton season. Thus, for many years, growers found a ready labor supply in a rural population otherwise at loose ends. As this population relocated to cities, and as cotton farmers mechanized their operations, peach growers turned increasingly to the federal government to help shore up their workforces.