Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street? Perhaps not. But a peanut farmer in south Georgia can tell you how Sesame Street got to her farm. In an episode that aired Feb. 2, 2019 on HBO, the children’s television series visited peanut country to show kids where one of their favorite foods comes from.* In the process of filming, it became an educational experience unto itself that brought the industry together and showed that Sesame Street still has the power to bring joy and inspiration to people of all ages.
When the Georgia Peanut Commission received an inquiry looking for a peanut farmer to be filmed for a children’s show, Casey Cox of Camilla, GA immediately came to mind. Cox had experience being on film, but what no one knew at the time was that this wasn’t for just any children’s show.
“I'm not particularly good with kids but I said, ‘sure, I'd be glad to help,’” said Cox. “They called me later and said that it was going to be for Sesame Street, and I could not believe it. I said, ‘I’ll do anything!’”
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
One of TV’s most iconic programs that generations of children have grown up watching wanted to produce a segment to explain how peanut butter is made. But the filming needed to be done in February, so stakeholders from across the industry had to pull out all of the stops to make magic happen when peanut farming wasn’t.
“Obviously, since it was February we had to get a little bit creative with how we did everything because there were no peanuts in the field,” said Cox. “So I started talking to some of my colleagues at the USDA Peanut Lab and the University of Georgia peanut team. I said, ‘they need a live peanut plant.’”
Cox said she had people from across the Southeast looking for a peanut plant. “Bless their hearts, the UGA team even enlisted some of the folks from the University of Florida. It became a tri-state effort.”
Eventually, they were able to find one, though Cox described it as “a tiny little thing no bigger than a potted flower.” It didn’t make it in the final cut, but Cox was proud of the group effort. She was also glad that she was able to point the producers to B-roll footage of peanut farming and harvesting that was previously shot on her farm for a National Peanut Board video.
It wasn’t just finding a peanut plant that presented an issue. The film crew also wanted to show peanut seed going into a hopper, and where peanuts are stored. Darlene Cowart of Birdsong Peanuts helped by bringing a bag of peanut seed to Cox’s farm, and getting the film crew into a peanut warehouse.
“Everybody thought it was a practical joke because we were asking them to open up a peanut warehouse so Sesame Street could come film,” said Cox. “I’m very thankful to the kind gentleman who opened up that warehouse at 8:00pm on a Friday night for three hours for us to film. The whole experience was so entertaining and fun.”
The film crew also shot footage of peanut butter production at a facility in Alabama, and Cox provided the voiceover for the whole process, from planting and harvesting to making the peanut butter.
A Teachable Moment for Everyone
With so many members of the industry involved, it goes to show the power of Sesame Street in bringing people together to tell an educational story for kids. It even showed that both on and off camera, the show can teach us all invaluable life lessons.
“I learned how to be resourceful and creative,” said Cox. “When Sesame Street calls in February and wants to film peanut production, you make it work!”
For Cox, the experience and the episode were a reminder of the bigger picture when it comes to food production. She hopes that children who watch the segment will make the connection between the food that they eat, and the agricultural communities that helped bring it to the table.
“People are so far removed from agriculture and from the farm,” said Cox. “Teaching children where their food comes from, including the family farm and agricultural community behind every product, is important. The earlier children begin thinking about where their food comes from, the better off we will be in the future. We will have more productive conversations around food and agriculture and how intertwined our lives are between farmers and consumers.”
Asked what she’ll remember most about this experience, Cox said: “This is probably the highlight of my agricultural career. I don’t know if you can top being on Sesame Street!”
*Season 49, Episode 12: Elmo’s Happy Little Train