91-year-old patriarch of Georgia peach farm still shows up at work everyday
At 91 years old, Robert “Bob” Dickey still gets to work at 7 a.m. sharp every day.
He is the oldest peach-grower in Georgia and the patriarch of the state’s oldest continuously operating peach-packing house, Dickey Farms.
He was born into the peach business and remembers his grandfather hauling peaches out of the orchard by mule and wagon.
The Dickey peach-packing house in Musella was built by his grandfather from trees cut down on the property and hewn into lumber. Dickey remembers watching it get built and how his grandfather hired neighboring farmers to help.
“It was a monumental operation,” Dickey said.
Tuesday morning he sat in one of the white rocking chairs for visitors at the shed and talked about why he still loves the peach business so much. He leaned forward at the question, with a gleam in his eye and energy in his voice.
“It’s a joy to be here and part of the operation,” he said. “My wife gets mad, says I need to come home and rest, and I said I can sit in one of these rocking chairs and rest just as good in the packing house as I can at home.”
Although his son and grandson are in charge of the operation now, he keeps a close eye on what’s going on. When The Telegraph arrived he was carefully inspecting peaches coming in from the orchard.
He took over the operation in 1956 after his father died unexpectedly. That was a year after the worst peach crop in history, when a late spring freeze wiped out the entire crop. Only by his grandfather’s credit was he able to keep the farm going.
“It’s been an uphill battle ever since,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed every year of it.”
His grandfather, whom he was named after, planted the farm’s first peach trees in 1897 and harvested the first crop in 1900. The shed was built alongside railroad tracks — the primary way of shipping peaches north in those days. But later refrigerated trucks became a better option and the rail spur was pulled up.
Dickey said one of the best advances for the peach industry was the creation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Southeastern Fruit and Tree Nut Research Laboratory in Byron. For decades, the Elberta peach was the standard for Georgia, but Dickey said the lab developed many new and better varieties that extended the season. The peach season at one time lasted from around early June to mid-July, he said, but now it goes from mid-May to mid-August.
“They have developed peaches that are more attractive, taste better and ship better than the old Elberta,” he said.
His son, Robert Dickey III, came back and started working on the peach farm after finishing college.
“He just taught me so much,” said state Rep. Robert Dickey. “He loves peaches. He loves planting new trees and loves seeing the harvest.”
Lee Dickey said his granddad is never late for work.
“As soon as he gets here he wants the down low on what’s happening and what everybody is doing,” he said. “He’s just so excited.”