The Peach Truck: Romancing the Stone Fruit
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Nashville, Tennessee

The Peach Truck: Romancing the Stone Fruit

Nashville’s Peach Truck is Grown for Gold

Two summers ago, I was totally exhausted. My wife and I were midway through a particularly grueling cross-country road trip, and were taking what we could get in the way of places to crash, hot meals, and creature comforts. So we were exceptionally grateful when in passing through Nashville, a close friend and her mother––locals to the area––treated us to our first real dinner all week.

Beyond the square meal, in a true display of southern hospitality, a shopping bag beset with gifts was produced from beneath the table. We were presented with T-shirts from favorite barbecue spots, souvenirs from their hometown, and lastly, an innocuous-looking brown paper lunch bag bearing the silhouette of an old truck––an insignia that, though unfamiliar to me then, is one of the most recognizable summer sights in the city.

Playfully, they feigned repossession of what we soon learned was a package of peaches, cresting in their ripeness. For a moment there I’d wondered if it was a bag full of gold, and once properly initiated, that’s exactly how I treated them. The fruit was indescribably delicious; the way a peach tastes to the imagination––like candy––these were infinitely, purely peach.

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For the remainder of our journey, until the final pit was parted with, I protected that bag in my lap, ever in fear that my perfect, perishable treasure would be tarnished or meet an untimely end. I portioned, pleading and bargaining with them to last just a little longer, fruitlessly hoping to prolong their preciously short lives.

It was no wonder our benefactors hesitated to surrender them; each idyllically sunset-shaded peach was easily worth its weight in gold.

The first time Stephen Rose took his wife to Pearson Farm in his home state of Georgia, she turned into a thief. He’d been hoping to share something that was special to him growing up, something they’d struggled to find since moving to Nashville. He recalls, “It had been two years of bad peaches. I took Jess to the farm and she ate one off the tree––she’d never tasted anything like it.”

Jessica recalls that moment, “When we went down to the farm, I was brought to tears. It’s the most incredible thing. That bag of peaches is truly a little bag of gold.”

She was so taken with them that she decided to, well, take them. “I was like, stealing peaches, putting them in my purse––like ‘Hey, thanks guys!” But if she really was helping herself to their fruit, the farm was forgiving; her purported pilfering didn’t pose a problem when the idea to become partners in business presented itself.

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Stephen remembers the organic conception of The Peach Truck. “It was a basic conversation; we said, ‘Guys, can we be your Nashville arm for the farm? We’ll get these peaches that we’re eating up to Nashville? And they said, ‘Let’s do it!’”

Being a peach lover is a little like being a die-hard fan of the forever-losing team. The odds are stacked, the season is short, the conditions unforgiving. The wait, which begins for most of us just as soon as the mercilessly short growing period ceases, is long and un-assuaged by the arrival of apples in the fall, or even apricots in the spring. And when the peaches finally do appear, selecting the perfect one is the produce-aisle equivalent of Russian roulette, one ideal occurrence hiding among dozens of spoiled, softened or rock-solid casualties. Should you be fortunate enough to find that perfect peach, you must act diligently to protect it, to transport it cautiously, to store it in an atmosphere that it finds hospitable, and to wait patiently––but check frequently––to determine that exact moment to bite into it, hoping desperately that the window hasn’t passed you by. It’s an abusive relationship, this one that we have with peaches. We love them so much, but we’re so often let down.

The Roses and I are card-carrying members of this expectant and––dare I say––occasionally pathetic, peach-dependent fan club. When we meet for coffee, it’s all that I can do not to launch into tales of peach-related woe, hungry for sympathetic souls. We quickly fall into the conversation of kindred spirits, about the delicacy of their craft, the greed of the peaches with their relentless demands for undivided attention. But ultimately we’re in agreement; all is justified when the right peach offers up its sweet reward.

Sure, maybe this is a tad romantic, but the couple––ballcapped-and-Georgia-born Stephen and strawberry-blonde, Seattle-native Jessica––arrive with no pretense, no air of contrivance, just genuinely pure passion for our beloved hero, the peach. And being that the peach is technically a member of the rose family, this affection seems apropos.

But perhaps most importantly to Pearson Farm and their loyal followers, the couple respects the peach and the process of cultivation. “It’s amazing,” Jessica notes. “It’s so powerful how much effort goes into every single one.”

“The farm so values getting the right peach to people,” Stephen explains. Soon after that first visit, The Peach Truck began quite literally trucking tons of Pearson’s peaches six hours north to middle Tennessee with one objective: to get them to their destination expediently and carefully, to present peaches that are representative of and pay tribute to that intensive care with which they’re grown.

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“When you’re eating our peaches, they are literally hours off the tree.” Stephen says, noting that this concept––farm-fresh fruit––is sadly one long lost to the industrial chain in recent decades. “Farmers are growing peaches and selling them to [grocery stores], and it takes up to a month to get to the consumer. We thought, ‘What if we got peaches to people two days off the tree?’ It’s a game-changer.”

Pearson clearly appreciates the Roses’ assiduousness; “The very first peaches off the trees this year will come to The Peach Truck because they believe so much in us. They do 95% of the work, and we take the ball over the goal line,” Stephen says.

“They work all year,” Jessica adds, “Pruning and thinning and taking care of the soil and trees, and the peaches are so fragile. One little blemish and it’s ruined. The tree is similar––peach wood can burn, so they put literally a sunscreen on the wood. It’s is the only industry where you’re still using your hands; there are no machines at all because the peaches are so delicate.”

She continues, “I’d have hated to have been them all these years; grocery stores require a sticker that says Pearson Farms, and then they ruin your peach before it’s even sold––that’s your name! We’re committed to living up to their high standards. We’re reaping a benefit because the product––the peach––is so good.”

Once the peaches made it to town, the Roses looked to Nashville’s dining scene for their first sales. Stephen remembers, “We began by going to chefs; any good food movement is going to start there. We knocked on doors and said, ‘We’re going to bring Georgia peaches right off the tree,’ and they were in. It started with Tandy Wilson at City House and Margo McCormack at Marché and Sean Brock at Husk; they were finally getting a quality peach that they hadn’t had access to in years. They not only put our peaches on the menu, but they told people about us.”

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The Peach Truck then aligned themselves not simply with food vendors selling quality products, but with quality products regardless of industry. “We didn’t go the traditional route of every farmer’s market. Instead we went to our friends at Imogene & Willie, a great denim store, and said ‘Can we set up outside and sell peaches?’ Suddenly, people like us who shopped there got to know us. We went to our favorite restaurants and to businesses with the same mission and found people who were going for quality. We wanted to have that correlation, because that’s what this is!”

“It’s so fun because you’re dealing with an awesome product,” Jessica elaborates. “[Our peach] is as quality as the coffee here, the jeans there––it’s the best in its field.”

This summer, in their fourth season, that community emphasis on quality and collaboration is still evident. If you can’t manage to make it to one of the 15 to 30 locations at which The Peach Truck vends throughout the week, you might find their fruit in a peach salad or cocktail at Burger Up, or a peach oatmeal at Barista Parlor, or a hot dog with peach relish at the Nashville Sounds ballpark. “Coming here with no roots didn’t matter; people just love and support you when you’re adding to the flavor of the community.”

The Roses also acknowledge the greater collaboration––the one between Pearson Farm, The Peach Truck and Mother Nature––to produce their peaches. Appropriately, there’s an alchemy to the cultivation, down to the pruning process which Stephen explains to me. “We’re cutting off good producing limbs so that the few that remain on the tree are excellent. Then we’ll thin each one out; they’ll naturally grow a peach every inch, but we pull them off and only allow one peach every six inches, so that the peaches remaining are that much better.”

The Roses dedicate their exclusive attention to a sole offering because they believe with peaches, there is no alternative. “Our singular focus is one product,” Jessica says. “A grocery store has thousands. Peaches are so delicate, they demand so much attention and respect that our whole lives revolve around that. I can’t imagine how a grocery store could ever produce a good peach. It’s not a banana. It’s not an apple. Peaches are not resilient. We could sell a lot of different things and they can be hours off the tree, but this product specifically demands that respect. And when you don’t give it to them, they’re mealy, they’re hard, they go from rock solid to completely flavorless and soft and you’re like, ‘Where’s my window?’ You never had a chance.”

A career dedicated to drupes has required that the couple take more than a casual interest in disciplines like meteorology. Adjusting his ball cap in the almost-summer Tennessee sun, Stephen ruminates on the science. “It starts with the winter and we track ‘chill hours’, which is one hour under 45 degrees. Once spring hits, we want it to gradually warm up; if it gets too warm the peaches grow too fast, or you get that cold snap and it takes out the crop like that,” he says with a snap of his own. “We got one little frost that took 30% off the top, so we’re looking at a 70% crop because of just one night.”

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Stephen laughs when I inquire about the logistics of planning of their launch each summer. “It’s a moving target; we think we’ll be picking peaches Friday, but it might be Sunday.”

“We are at the mercy of the trees from the get-go and all throughout the season,” Jessica adds. “But that’s the beauty of it; being so dependent on nature and trusting that process.”

The Roses are as committed to understanding the growing practice as they are to passing education along to consumers. “There was a lot of misunderstanding,” Jessica says. “A hard peach was notorious for being a bad peach because it’s been in the refrigerator––well, if we picked a peach that was soft on the tree, an hour later it’d be turning. A firm peach has maybe a max of five days to naturally condition. Once it’s warm and ‘sweating’, that hardness has to go all the way to soft. Then you can put it in a refrigerator and it’ll stop so you can enjoy them. To honor that process, we have info cards at all of our tables describing proper care. You have to respect it.”

Stephen says, “We teach people that you’re going to buy a firm peach, but put it on your counter for a few days and it’ll be ready to eat. That was an uphill battle because people said, ‘I buy a firm peach from the grocery store and it stays firm.’ That’s because it’s been in the refrigerator for a month. It’s re-educating people on what they’ve forgotten, or what they never knew because they were too young to remember what a good peach tastes like.”

And while the peaches demand the Roses’ complete attention every summer, they repay the couple––who became parents to a baby girl in 2014––with an unusually lifestyle-friendly business model the remainder of the year.

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“Our lives are broken up into three seasons; we’re like baseball players,” Jessica laughs. “We have off-season between September and January, and pre-season February to May when we’re gearing up. Mid-May to mid-August is peach season, which is a marathon. But it’s so fun, so energizing.”

During that off-season, the Roses indulge their shared wanderlust. “When you travel, you realize quickly that it’s a very American thing to think we can’t live this way,” Stephen says. “We got a lot of people saying ‘Y’all can’t do that.’ But we were in Italy during low season and restaurants were closed. We thought, ‘So are we––that’s great!’”

Jessica continues, “We want to live our lives when we’re in our 20’s and 30’s and 40’s, and not just when we’re retired. I don’t ever want to take a vacation because I need a break from my life. I want to go on trips, I want to travel, but no vacations. I want to always love whatever we’re doing and never thinking, Get me out of this system.”

“We give up our summers,” Stephen says. “But then, once fall hits, we travel, we hang out with our kid. We had her in October and both of us have been home every day. It’s kind of magical.”

And while the overall schedule is accommodating, being at the mercy of the peaches can make planning the growth of their business a challenge.

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“How do we keep the model, to bring people peaches right off the tree, and replicate that?” They’ve had success with web-based sales, shipping peaches all over the country. “We love ‘Farm-to-Porch’”, Stephen says, referring to the program. “I think it’s magic that you can be in Washington and get peaches right off the tree. That’s something we’re really focused on growing, but the vision can’t change.”

The Peach Truck also hits the road with an annual “Freestone Tour.” Stephen continues, “We’re doing 108 stops over six-weeks throughout Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. At least in Nashville, you have Whole Foods where you can buy great produce. But in these small towns, there aren’t those options, so it’s really amazing.”

They’ve worked to devise creative new ways to share their peaches, but Stephen always emphasizes the original mission. “Everything we do has to pass three filters: Does this take away from our freedom? Does this go against our vision? And does it acknowledge and respect what the peaches demand? If it doesn’t pass those three things, we’re not going to do it. We’ve got to go with our gut, and it’s got to make sense for us as a family.”

A good peach, I find in my own romantic, fruit-based reflection, teaches important life lessons. About patience. About respect. About appreciation. About family. It forces a society in constant motion to slow down, because it obstinately denies our attempts to accelerate its delicate process.

And while money may not grow on trees, perhaps something much more precious does––something fleeting, fragile, and distinctly finicky. But something with proper care presents unmitigated natural reward. For the Roses and those fortunate enough to sample their fresh Georgia peaches, it’s something that’s easily as good as gold.

A few weeks later, when the peaches finally do find their way to Nashville, I buy up what are now extremely familiar brown paper bags to pass along. Because like our friend and her mother, and like the Roses themselves, I feel a responsibility to share the wealth. I deliver each with fair warning, as they may just initiate unsuspecting members into the ranks of our club. But for 14 achingly abbreviated weeks each summer, there’s no sweeter place to be.

Looking to taste a peach from The Peach Truck? Find its whereabouts here.

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