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Houston County Living

Farming at its Finest

Jul 28, 2021 09:10PM ● By Alexa Tebben
     Georgia Peaches are unlike anything in this world. On a nice cool day, peachy fuzz over a soft juicy
  bite is enough to send you straight to heaven. While simple to eat, growing peaches and pecans is an art that can take generations to master. The Pearson family at Pearson Farms has done just that.
     Lawton Pearson is a fifth-generation farmer who grew up watching his father and grandfather grow and
nurture their harvest of delicious peaches and pecans. From the beginning, farming has been an interactive bonding experience in the Pearson family. “I grew up on the farm and work for me was going to ride with my dad when I was real little,” Lawton says of his childhood. “It was all fun when I look back on it.”
     As Lawton grew up and career choices became ever-pressing, Lawton made a strategic move to broaden his skill set. “I wanted to have an option other than the farm,” he admits smartly. “It’s a pretty risky business and I didn’t know if I’d be good at it. I’d been through enough seasons with my dad to know it’s not a sure thing.” Knowing the uncertainty of the farming business, Lawton decided to build himself up for success and create a reliable fallback plan.
      After receiving his undergraduate degree at Wake Forest University, he went to the University of Georgia and received a degree in law. “I wanted a legal education and I wanted to be able to do that one day if I needed to,” Lawton explains. Setting himself up with the proper education for another career field, he confidentially returned to Pearson Farms to begin his journey as a farmer.
     “The whole year, start to finish, every day, is a little different,” Lawton admits. With the changing seasons comes a revolving checklist of tasks. “So much of what we do is done in my hands,” Lawton remarks. “It’s a lot of hard work, pruning, thinning, picking… There are times of the year when you don’t do
  anything else, you don’t plant anything else. That, to me, is natural.” Lawton has become so attune to the farming lifestyle that he even plans his vacations and life around peach season. The lifestyle of a farmer is a unique one unlike any typical office job, and Lawton has settled into it quite comfortably.
      With 1,700 acres of peaches and 3,000 acres of pecans, Pearson Farms is well-staffed with an array of
helpers. Lawton says he employs over 50 people year-round and about 225 people seasonally.
      What is especially unique about Pearson Farm’s staff, however, is their long-standing history with the
Pearson family. Descendants of an employee that Lawton’s grandfather hired decades ago work the farm land today. “We value the people,” Lawton says warmly as he describes their long-standing relationship. “We’re all working toward the same goal. Our focus as a group is on this crop.” The loyalty Pearson Farm invokes in its people has stretched through generations of employees in the same way it has through its farmers.
       And it’s no easy task. “Peaches require an awful amount of energy and time,” Lawton shares. Between the constant changing seasons, intricacy of the trade and sheer size of the farm, Lawton and his team have their hands full. He speaks of the farm workers with gratitude for their hard work and unmatched dedication to the farm. “I spend more time with them than I do my own family certain times of the year,” he admits. “You can’t help but have a bond with people you spend that much time with.” He adds that they feel more like extended family than  employees, and the feeling is most certainly mutual.
     From a family of dedicated farmers, Lawton values what those before him have accomplished. “I’m looking at trees my father planted and my grandfather planted,” he says. “That legacy hangs over everything.” Lawton is honored to carry on the work of the men and women before him, and he certainly
  does so with vigor and pride. 
      The collaborative effort of the entire family and their commitment to keeping the farm successful
particularly sets Pearson Farms apart. Will McGehee, Lawton’s cousin, also returned to the farm as an adult. “I’m growing everything and he’s selling everything,” Lawton summarizes. “He’s as invested as I am, but we’re somewhat separate.” There are many parts to making a farm successful, and each facet is unique and important to the process.
     After being raised alongside Pearson Farms, Lawton now raises a family of his own there. He has three buoyant children with his wife, Lanier Defnall Pearson. “It’s one of the things I really like about my job,” Lawton says excitedly. “I can bring my kids with me whenever I want to.” He describes their continuous enthusiasm for the commotion and seasonality of the farm. They love riding along with their daddy hard at work much the way he did as a boy. “I’m not teaching them a whole lot, but they see a whole lot of it being done,” he says explaining that they are learning simply by observing. Inadvertently, the kids are gaining knowledge and tools that can only be learned over time.
      When asked about his children and the future of Pearson Farms, it was clear that he did not want to force the farm life on anyone. “I wanted to choose the farm, I didn’t want the farm to choose me,” he says. And he wants the same thing for his children. “We talk about the legacy and trying to get it to the sixth generation,” he admits. However, Lawton says, “The goal is to get it to be sustainable whether or not they want to come back.” Lawton will not pressure his children to follow in his footsteps. He knows the challenges and difficulties of farming and only hopes that Pearson Farms will always be run by people that have the same desire for its success as he does.
     Despite the flourish of Pearson Farms, farming itself is on a steady decline. Lawton explains that the
  average age of farmers is 60 as opposed to the ripe young age of 30 it once was. “That’s scary because a lot of this knowledge has to be handed down,” he says sadly. “We are further and further, as a society, away from the farm.” And he’s right. Few people today know exactly what goes into growing a pecan or a peach, and this threatens the farming community.
     “Farmers need to do a better job at educating the people. We at Pearson Farms want to be more transparent, more available and love the connection with our customers,” he tells me. Despite the decrease in farming, Lawton and his team press forward determined to keep Pearson Farms alive and bountiful. With a rich history and vibrant spirit, the legacy of the Pearson family and their farm continues to impact the community one juicy peach at a time.

Photographed by Tinika Bennett Photography