“Life’s a peach“ is more than a slogan for the McLeod family of McBee, South Carolina. The McLeods operate one of the largest peach orchards in the area, with 650 acres in production . We grow 22 varieties of peaches on the sandy, loam soils surrounding the small town of McBee, SC.
The orchards have been in the McLeod family since 1916. Owner Kemp McLeod represents the fourth generation to work the family orchards. He learned the operation from his father, Campbell McLeod.
It takes about 40 employees to run the farm year-round. However, during the peach season (late May through August), the numbers swell to over 200. Workers can be found picking, grading, packing, and preparing shipments for millions of pounds of peaches to all parts of the U.S. and Canada. At the height of the season, daylight to dusk workdays are not unusual.
At McLeod Farms, peaches are picked every day. The fruit is then sent through an ice-cold water bath to slow the ripening process. After being sealed with an ultra-light wax coating that closes the pores of the peaches to keep them fresh, they are then sorted by size, shape, and color. All of our peaches are hand-graded and selected for shipment to individuals and commercial customers. The same grading process is used to select peaches to be sold in our retail sales areas.
The peach production process begins long before harvest. From January to April, trees are pruned and branches are tied together so they do not drag the ground or break under the weight of the fruit. Once the fruit is visible, it is thinned to allow a hand’s width between each peach for optimum growth. This insures that our peaches will be big and juicy.
On average, it takes four years before trees produce high quality fruit. The average productive life of a peach tree is 17 years. Once a peach orchard completes its life-span, the ground is allowed to rest for several years before replanting.
McLeod Farms utilizes a variety of high-tech equipment, including a modern drip irrigation system and high speed wind machines. These wind machines work with nature to pull the warmer air from the upper atmosphere down into the orchard to raise ground level temperatures and save crops from devastating cold and frost damage. In Spring and early Summer, hail prevention equipment crushes hail, by generating high frequency sound waves (cannon-like sounds) to protect fruit against potential damage.
Although Georgia calls itself, “the Peach State”, South Carolina is actually the leader in peach production in the Southeast, followed by Georgia and Virginia.
The McLeod farming operation is truly a sight to see. When it comes to peaches, the family recommends everyone try the Cary Mac variety, developed exclusively by them – a delicious delight from the Carolinas.
About McBee, South Carolina
Like many southern towns, McBee was named after a railroad executive. McBee’s namesake, V.E. “Bunch” McBee, was one of South Carolina’s leaders in the building of railroads. He was responsible for the construction of the Columbia, South Carolina to Hamlet, North Carolina line, which runs through McBee. He was at one time superintendent of the Seaboard Air Line Railway. The town of McBee was incorporated in 1902, when it became the starting point of the Columbia, Monroe, and Charlotte Railroad. There are several industries in the area that support the town’s 867 inhabitants. In fact,about 1,500 people are employed within 5 miles of the town center. The two largest firms are A.O. Smith and Talley Metals. And, of course, McBee is well known for the peach industry.
McBee boasts one of the largest Fire Districts in Chesterfield County. Alligator Fire District is home to five fully operating stations spread all over the district. The Fire District provides protection and response using highly trained volunteer firefighters who are certified through the SC Fire Academy located in Columbia. The fire district’s name was taken from historic place names – “Alligator Creek & Alligator Township. Alligator Township is located north of McBee on U.S. Highway 1.
The Old McBee Train Depot still stands today, and has been converted into a Railroad Museum and also houses the McBee Branch of the Chesterfield County Library. The Depot Museum provides a look back at the history of the railroad industry and includes many displays depicting numerous aspects of a bygone era.