Blakely’s 5th annual Peanut Proud festival is set for Saturday, March 23, on the Courthouse Square, but you would be wrong to assume that this will be just a one-day celebration of the noble peanut plant on which Early County thrives.
Long after the parade is over and the bands have stopped playing, after the arts and crafts booths have been closed up and various groups have stopped selling their vast menus of tasty food items on that day, the community volunteers who put the event together will simply keep working.
In 2011, a month after Peanut Proud festival day, they swooped in on the village of Smithville, Miss., following a deadly tornado that had raked the place. Peanut Proud volunteers delivered 87,000 jars of peanut butter to citizens of Smithville and areas of nearby Alabama that had been devastated.
“Things were really bad five years ago and now we are a humanitarian organization,” said LeaJean Manry, an employee of Birdsong Peanut Co. in Blakely, the firm from which “Peanut Proud” was born.
Her reference back to 2008 was of the salmonella outbreak that hit Peanut Corporation of America, a Virginia-based firm which had a facility in Blakely. PCA is now out of business, but the peanut industry has rebounded strongly because Manry and other quality folks who worked at Birdsong decided to fight back and restore the peanut’s good name.
Things have progressed so satisfactorily that there is now even in the works a brand of peanut butter with the “Peanut Proud” label on it. The local organization is working with none other than Kroger Foods Inc. on that project.
Surely you don’t believe that a giant food company like Kroger would get involved with a product that has seen its better days, do you? It goes to show how far the peanut’s recovery has come since those dark days of 2008 and 2009. Incidentally, among the first loads of “Peanut Proud Peanut Butter” in existence will be available in Blakely on March 23.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Elvis Presley his ownself shows up for a tasting of his favorite fried peanut butter-and-banana sandwich. Don’t say “argh” until you’ve tried one.
Food banks across the U.S. will soon thereafter be receiving their first shipments of the new brand of nutritious peanut butter.
Peanut Proud will last all day, beginning with 5-k and fun-runs starting at 7 a.m. Music, a parade at 10 a.m. and food availability of many varieties will follow. Some of this region’s finest artists and craftsmen in the three-state area will be showcasing and selling their wares all around the drop-dead gorgeous Early County Courthouse until late afternoon.
Don’t plan on going home early that day. More famous, bigger name musicians will begin performing around 5 p.m., and dancing on the square will commence. Nationally-known groups “Diamond Rio” and the “Fabulous Expressions” will be the prime acts as the evening wears on.
You can head home sometime after 11 p.m., but remember that Peanut Proud’s main corps of volunteer activists will just be cranking up, ready to take the peanut’s good name to parts unknown.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.