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Virginia peanuts film to screen tonight

By Sue Woodward

Special to the News-Herald

After six years of interviews and filming, “The Virginia Peanut Story” is ready to be screened this Wednesday.

Producer Amy Drewry has worked with Western Tidewater Virginia Heritage Inc., a nonprofit made up of historians, farmers and other people from Isle of Wight, Southampton, Surry and Sussex counties and the city of Suffolk. The 57-minute documentary has been made for airing on public television. It was produced with support from Virginia Humanities and other local and regional foundations, businesses and individuals.

In partnership with the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, the film is being publicly shown in the Birdsong Theater on the second floor of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts at 110 W. Finney Ave., downtown in Suffolk, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 15.

The film follows the peanut from its origins in South America to Africa and on to the Virginia Colony.  The story takes the legume from being a lowly food grown for home use to being the basis for big businesses in our region.

The story includes George Washington Carver, who discovered a variety of new uses for the peanut, and some local inventors whose inventions made peanut farming more efficient.

Amedeo Obici is part of the story, too. He was the little Italian immigrant who made a big splash in the business world with his Planters Peanuts. Many say that his iconic Mr. Peanut was born in Suffolk, the idea of a Suffolk schoolboy.

The last peanut sheller in Virginia and a former peanut broker represent the market side of the peanuts and talk about the days when Suffolk was called “World’s Largest Peanut Market.”

Gourmet peanut shops are part of the story. A number of these shops do business in Southampton County and in the Wakefield area. There are so many of these businesses in Wakefield area that the town has adopted the title of “Peanut Capital.”

The Virginia type peanut does not recognize state lines, and peanuts are grown in a number of North Carolina counties. Some scenes are filmed in North Carolina, and one businessman from the Tarheel State talks about the origins of his vertically integrated peanut business.

The experts — authors, food historians, scientists and others — have their part in the film. So do vintage photos and film footage. At the heart of the story, though, are the farmers, old and young, who acknowledge that farming is hard and unpredictable. In spite of it, they love farming and truly love the land. It’s all part of the Virginia Peanut story.

Contact the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts at 923-0003 or visit suffolkcenter.org for more information.