I grew up on a farm. Our commodity crops were soybeans and corn and cotton. We grew sweet corn and a lot of vegetables and had an orchard filled with blueberries, pears and muscadines – usually more than enough for ourselves with leftovers each summer to sell or share with others. It was, truly, the quintessential Southern farm. Except for one thing.

We were missing an important ingredient on our farm: peanuts.

I recently visited several peanut farms near Savannah, Georgia as part of the Georgia Peanut Tour, an annual event hosted by the Georgia Peanut Commission. I discovered why peanuts are a critical ingredient to our Southern economy and food culture – and the critical role that peanuts play in solving hunger issues in developing countries around the globe.

Peanuts 101: Did you know?

1. Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi combine to produce two-thirds of the U.S. peanut crop each year. American peanuts are grown on approximately 25,000 family farms. When they harvest their peanuts, these farmers sell their peanuts to “buying points” where USDA inspectors inspect and grade each load of peanuts.

2. Runner-type peanuts used to make peanut butter are primary grown in Southern states, which means the overwhelming majority of peanut butter sold in U.S. grocery stores (brands like JIF and Skippy) originated at a Southern family farm.

3. Peanuts are not actually nuts! They are legumes – like beans, peas and lentils.¬†The peanut plant is very unusual because it produces a bloom on its above ground bush then pegs into the ground where the fruit – or peanut – develops. At harvest, machines, called “diggers,” turn the peanut plants upside down in the fields to dry for several days before a peanut combine, also known as a thresher, separates the pods from the vines, placing the peanut pods into a hopper in the machine and vines are returned to the field to improve soil fertility and organic matter.

4. The peanut packs a powerful punch for your diet providing over 10% of the U.S. recommended daily intake of protein per 1 ounce serving or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, plus they’re packed with important vitamins and minerals and are recognized as a heart-healthy food.

5. A Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) using powdered milk and peanut butter is transforming the treatment of severe malnutrition in some of the most desperate places on earth. With a 90% or higher success rate, RUTF allows aid workers around the globe to treat malnourished children in a completely new way, and it is particularly effective for treating children aged 6 months to 2 years Рthe most vulnerable. Learn more at peanutbutterforthehungry.org.

The most important thing I learned on my Georgia Peanut Tour was that if I want to support my local peanut farm families, I should eat more peanut butter. The fact of the matter is that it’s difficult to buy peanuts directly from a farm because of the safety measures the USDA has in place to protect our health. But the line between the farm down the road and the grocery shelf is clear.

SPG-logo>> Learn More. Visit PeanutButterLovers.com for a wealth of peanut butter recipe ideas, industry and farm information and more. This site is hosted by the Southern Peanut Growers, an Eat Y’all partner.