At the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, every plant that’s on display has a story behind it. But there was one particular plant that was an interesting part of the horticultural landscape in this year’s edible garden exhibit. Four plots of the heirloom variety of Carolina African Runner peanut were planted earlier this year and harvested in October. While the plants beautifully filled out the concrete beds in the exhibit, they also provided an opportunity to educate visitors about Southern crops and how they became a part of American culture.
In this Q&A, NPB’s Keegan Treadaway chats with the Gardens’ Horticulture Manager (and self-declared peanut fanatic), Raleigh Wasser, to find out more about the motivation for planting peanuts, what happens after they’re harvested, and what she hopes people glean from peanuts’ inclusion in the exhibit.
Keegan: What was the motivation for growing peanuts in the edible garden?
Raleigh: We started planting this variety a couple of years ago because we wanted to feature crops in the Edible Garden that helped to tell the story of foods that arrived here with immigrants, refugees, and displaced persons. The story of peanuts is a big part of the story of the African diaspora, first with the slave trade, but more recently with refugees from Sudan and other countries. We wanted to educate visitors and tell that story as part of an exhibit on the “Refugee Favorite Foods.” And we continue to grow peanuts as part of the edible garden.
K: Why the Carolina African Runner peanut?
R: I first found out about the Carolina African Runner peanut a couple of years ago when I saw that North Carolina State University was trying to rehabilitate this heirloom variety. The fact that I could get only 50 to 100 seeds was really cool to me, so I was excited to grow them and support the effort to help revive this variety. But I should note that the Carolina African Runner peanut are not the only variety that we’ve grown. We’ve also grown Schronce’s Deep Black, which has this deep violet skin, as well as the Carolina Black peanuts. I’ve sourced both the Schronce’s and the Carolina Black from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
K: What do you want people to take away from the edible garden exhibit, and what specifically about peanuts?
R: We want to educate visitors about where their food comes from and how it’s grown. People come here to see beautiful flowers, plants, and ornamentals, and there is beauty in the edible crops that are grown for food as well. Obviously, we want this to be educational, which is why we have signs about the plants that are grown. The only limitation about growing peanuts in the garden is that they grow underground, so people don’t get to see the actual peanut throughout the growing season.
K: What will happen to the peanuts once they are harvested from the garden?
R: We work with volunteers to harvest all of the produce from the garden, and partners like the Jolly Avenue Garden in Clarkston, AmeriCorps, and the Concrete Jungle—an organization that helps collect food from community gardens across Atlanta—and they distribute the food throughout the community. We’ve also worked with the Atlanta Community Food Bank in the past to provide fresh produce. We do save some of the kernels for seed, but I also still like to buy seed from providers to support their work.
K: Any plans for growing peanuts again in the future?
R: Yes! I love growing peanuts! I’m a BIG peanut fan, if you couldn’t tell. I would love to grow more of these and am always looking for new varieties to grow. I love how they fill out the display of the exhibit, and how beautiful they are in the garden.
For more information about the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, visit www.atlantabg.org