Georgia is the Peach State but it is also home to about half of all peanuts grown in the United States. No matter how you eat your peanuts, be it candy bars, protein bars, peanut butter, or cocktail mixes, the chances are high that you've eaten peanuts from Hardy Farms Peanuts in Hawkinsville, GA. 

Fork in the Road Podcast: Hardy Farms Peanuts

Hardy Farms Peanuts roadside stand




Brad Hardy: You know, the whole world got so corporatized now that a lot of our customers like the aspect of this is coming from a smaller family operation.

David Zelski: This is Georgia. This is the Peach State. And we grow a lot of peaches here. But that's not the only thing we grow. Georgia grows a heck of a lot of peanuts. In fact, Georgia's the biggest peanut producer in the country and actually makes up about 40 to 50% of the national acreage of peanuts in the United States. Like I said, a heck of a lot of peanuts are grown here. You can boil them, rose them, candy coat them, or just make some good old fashioned peanut butter out of them. Today we are in Hawkinsville, smack dab in the middle of the state, 24 miles southeast of Perry, right on the banks of the Ocmulgee River. While Hawkinsville is known as the "Harness Horse Capital" of Georgia. We are here to talk peanuts. We're going to meet a family that is growing, the peanuts that go in all of the delicious things you know, and love.

Theme Song: I came from the mud, there's dirt on my hands. Strong like a tree, there's roots where I stand.

David Zelski: I'm David Zelski, and this is the Fork in the Road podcast, featuring stories from Georgia's farmers, fishermen, merchants, artisans, chefs and others who help provide Georgia grown products to folks in the Peach State and beyond. Today, we're taking a tour of Hardy Farms in Hawkinsville to learn the ins and outs of peanuts.

Alex Hardy: I'm a third generation farmer. My dad farm, his dad farm and I've been farming with my brothers and a cousin now for 50 years.

David Zelski: That's Alex Hardy. He's the patriarch of the family.

Alex Hardy: And in the beginning we just did like every other grower we were growing peanuts. Taking them to the warehouse.  We were growing cotton and corn, stuff like that. Well, 30 years ago we decided that we we needed to venture into something that was going to pay a little better. So the idea was to try to get into green peanut business and boiled peanut business. So in year number one, 1991, we got started as kind of an experiment. We only did three or four acres, maybe 10,000 pounds. And but they were profitable, that three or four acres, very profitable. So we knew we had something to work with. So for every year, for the next 30 years, we've improved it. We've we've grown the acres a little bit, a little bit every year. And we've expanded our market. We've expanded the way we actually market the peanut. Several different ways. Mail order. We boil them in-house. We shipped green ones all over the eastern, south and northeast. And we have a lot of....20 something roadside stands that throughout the Middle Georgia area that we've got. They've been we've had those out there for 20 years.

David Zelski: If you've taken a road trip through middle Georgia I'm sure you've seen one of the Hardy Farm peanuts stands. Some of the peanuts that are grown by the Hardy family today will actually be in those stands tomorrow.

Alex Hardy: Like I said earlier, I have two brothers and a cousin that farm with me and we've been farming together one of the well for the 30 years we've been in this business plus the 15 years prior to that. My father passed away in 1977. So he didn't get to he didn't get to see this. He would have been very proud. But then 20 years ago, we brought in my son and my nephew Brad and Ken, and we brought them in to explore one of those additional ways to market peanuts that I was were talking about. And so they they developed the boiled peanut market, the roadside stands and the mail order. And then. And now. And now they're also into roasting them.

David Zelski: All right. Let's start with the boiled peanuts. There's more to it than just picking some peanuts and tossing them in the water.

Alex Hardy: We're in the business of growing green peanuts. And green peanuts are peanuts grown especially for boiling.

David Zelski: Did you know that? You see, I didn't realize there was actually a difference in the peanuts grown specifically for boiling.

Alex Hardy: As far as the growing process, it's very similar to the the way all peanut farmers grow their peanuts for the warehouses. With the exception of what we do, we do a few extra things, we add a few extra products. We nuture them out a little bit more along the way. We monitor the irrigation closely and all this kind of thing, and we harvest them 2 to 3 weeks prior to full maturity. That's when a green peanut is best for boiling, when it's still kind of tender.

David Zelski: Let's follow Ken Hardy into the building and learn a little more.

Ken Hardy: Well, what you just witnessed was the cleaning process of the green peanuts, the gratings, everything they go through to get that field peanut into a state and it's ready to be consumed, consumable. So what we do with there, either those peanuts, will go to a grocery store or we bring them in here and we cook them. What you see behind me, we got five different pressure cookers. They're ran by a steam boiler, this on the other side of the wall. We'll cook it here 2 to 3 times a day. Normally we do about 5000 to 7500 pounds of boiled peanuts each day. Those peanuts. After cooking, we bring them out, cool them. They get bagged up and carried out to a different. Mostly the grocery stores throughout the southeast.

David Zelski: 5000 to 7500 pounds of peanuts boiled each day. Each day. Again, that's a heck of a lot of peanuts. We've learned that green peanuts are the ones to boil, but will Ken tell us any more secrets to making the perfect boiled peanut.

Ken Hardy: I say we cook these things and the magic, the secret is letting them soak. So we leave these peanuts. After they completely they're completely done, tender. We leave them in the water for about 2 hours. That's what they soak up that get that good salt flavor or even the ones behind you here. You can tell that's our hot and spicy one. So that's where they soak up that good heat.

David Zelski: Now, before we move on to anything else, I'm actually curious as to why Georgia is the place where so many peanuts are grown. Is it maybe something about the climate or the soil? Maybe Alex can shed some light on this for us.

Alex Hardy: It is. It is a difference in the climate and the soil. It's hard to put my finger on it. We also have a partner that grows some peanuts for us in South Florida. We think we see a difference in flavor. Georgia, maybe a little bit better, although they grow real well down there. But it's kind of like the Vidalia onions, something about that soil, about the climate. We we see that right here with our our green peanuts as well. So we're just we're we're honored and thrilled to be able to grow such a nutritious and delicious product that people seem to enjoy very much.

David Zelski: Now, let's meet another member of the Hardy family.

Brad Hardy: My name is Brad Hardy. I am one of the co-owners and the president here at our roasting facility. And I operate this on a daily basis.

David Zelski: Now, Brad's going to walk us through the other aspects of Hardy Farms Peanuts, and he can give us some insight on what it's like working with relatives.

Brad Hardy: Well, it's always nice to work with family. Sometimes it's difficult sometimes. But for the most part, it's a great thing to work with family, and we like to keep that family aspect. We've been able to pick up a lot of customers because of that. You know, the whole world got so corporatized now that a lot of our customers like the aspect that this is coming from a smaller family operation, you know, and we can compete with the big guys out there and some of the same things that they do. But that means a lot to a lot of people that they were a family operation.

David Zelski: As the president of the Hardy Farms roasting facility. Brad can actually give us the details of the operation that are outside of boiling peanuts.

Brad Hardy: So what we do at this facility is this is a full oil roasting and dry roasting operation. Most people don't realize Hardy Farms even does that kind of stuff. But we actually produce about ten million pounds of roasted peanuts through this facility every year.

David Zelski: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up that tape. What did he just say?

Brad Hardy: But we actually produce about ten million pounds of roasted peanuts through this facility every year.

David Zelski: Ten million pounds of peanuts. Ten million pounds. Okay, Time for some quick math. There's approximately 140 peanuts in a pound, right? Brad said they produce about ten million pounds of roasted peanuts every year. Put that together. That is 1.4 trillion peanuts. Enough peanuts to wrap around the Earth. Twice. .

Brad Hardy: So when the peanuts come in to this facility, the first thing the whole operation starts right here, right outside the door here. So peanuts come in. And all of these large white bags, we call them super sacks. 2200 pounds of peanuts come from the shellers. When we receive them, unlike our other operation, when we grow and everything on our own, everything we do here, we purchase from the market. So these peanuts come from all over the state of Georgia. Everything here is Georgia grown. But these come from farms all throughout the state of Georgia, mostly all over south Georgia. They come to us already shelled, already cleaned. Most of them are already blanched. So then when we get the peanuts, they're ready to go right into our cookers.

David Zelski: He keeps saying oil roasted and dry roasted. But what does that mean?

Brad Hardy: So this part of our operation is our oil roaster. Most of our oil roasted peanuts. They all go to candy companies all over the country. And these candy companies will take our peanuts and they'll put them in their candy bars. Their trail mixes. Their peanut butters, candy bars, all sorts of things. So this is our oil roaster. So the whole process starts with the raw bag of peanuts. It gets dumped into the hoppers, and then we'll go through the process. It's actually a very simple process. It's just done on a very large scale. Same thing you could do in your kitchen with a Fry Daddy. Same operation. So we start everything off, then we run our peanut through a shaker. This allows the small parts and little pieces of that of the nut that were not taken out during the blanching process to get taken out right here so it doesn't contaminate our oil. From there, it gets carried through the wall. And into our processing room. So from here, this is our oil roaster. We cook we can cook 2,000 pounds an hour of product on this machine every single day. This machine runs anywhere from 18 to 24 hours a day, every day. Peanuts come into the machine at 320 degrees. The oil on this end of the machine is 320 degrees. Peanuts come in raw, and in 4 minutes, they come out the other end of the machine fully cooked. So essentially, it's like frying. You could cook. You could cook chicken wings if you wanted. We don't. But you could.

David Zelski: Peanut oil, right?

Brad Hardy: Yes, We cook with pure peanut oil. We cook all our peanuts with pure peanut oil. And then at the end, we actually do a second secondary peanut glaze that will give the peanuts, that nice golden color and aroma.

David Zelski: Peanuts roasted in peanut oil and covered in peanut glaze. Peanut-ception. It sounds delicious. Now, Brad mentioned that these peanuts go out to candy companies. So I guess we may not always realize when we're buying peanuts from Hardy Farms.

Brad Hardy: We actually sell to a lot of companies that do a lot of private label. For companies like a like Walmart or Sam's or CVS or Walgreens. So a lot of times when you go into those stores, the peanuts inside their bags are come from right here at Hardy Farms Peanuts.

David Zelski: And that's an example of how Georgia grown products can touch not just all corners of the state, but all corners of the world. Now, let's move over to the dry roasted peanuts.

Brad Hardy: So this is our dry roasting line. And a dry roasted peanut is what they make every bit of peanut butter out of it. So we sell to companies around the country that make peanut butter. And so most of the mostly peanuts either go into peanut butter or we sell to companies that make diet bars and protein bars and various candy bars. Most of those products are a dry roasted peanut. Very different process. In contrast, our oil roaster takes four minute for them to cook. The dry roaster takes about 30 minutes for the for the product peanuts to go from one end to the other. Essentially it's a giant oven is what this is. But the process starts the same. We start right here with our raw product, the company same 2200 pounds sacks. We run them through a quick inspection that takes out our fine part to get out the any kind of imperfections that may have come from the sheller. Everything gets dumped into a tumbler or we mix if if we're running, a salted product we do a solution of water and salt that gets mixed and then it goes into the cooker to get baked onto the product. This is the 30 minute. Now we're at the end of our process and coming out here is our fully cooked, dry roasted product. These peanuts are actually destined to go to New Jersey, to a company that makes diet bars and protein bars. A lot of these a lot of the bars that you see on your shelves, these peanuts wound up in those bars. National Brand Company.

David Zelski: Oil roasted peanuts destined for candy bars, dry roasted peanuts for peanut butter and cocktail mixes, and one of the delicious Southern delicacies: boiled peanuts. That is a lot. But is that everything from Hardy Farm Peanuts? No, it's not.

Brad Hardy: Another little product that we do is we actually have our own brand of flavored peanuts. We have a few and a few stores out there. Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Ingles, Piggly Wiggly, places like that. And this is where we do, all that. So today we're actually running our peppered product. And so I'll show you real quick how that runs. But this is our pepper product here. We do a crushed black pepper, a sriracha, a regular salted, and then we actually have an award winning dill pickle flavor that we won the flavor of Georgia competition with a few years back,.

David Zelski: Award winning flavored peanuts? No big deal. You can find peanuts from Hardy Farms in their roadside stands, in your favorite candy bars or diet bars, peanut butter or maybe crushed up on top of your ice cream sundae. They're everywhere. And they come from right here in the great state of Georgia. That's it for this episode. You can watch A Fork In The Road on GPB-TV or any time on the website. That's where you'll also be able to listen and subscribe to this podcast or download it on your favorite podcast platform. I'm David Zelski. Thanks for listening to A Fork in the Road.


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