What do you imagine when you think of a peanut? Is it a bag from the ballpark or the treats in a box of Cracker Jacks? Whatever the case may be, the journey of a peanut is one that takes time and passion.
As you know, the peanut journey begins in the soil. Farmers work early hours of the day and long hours into the night to prepare the land to grow the food that will grace the shelves of the local grocery store. This is where the passion of agriculture is prevalent in these farmers, both men and women. After planting, comes many hard weeks of patience. Farmers know a lot about this word “patience.” Once it is time to harvest, or pick the peanuts from the ground, the peanuts are loaded into huge trucks or bins to begin their journey to us. Before the peanuts make it into our homes, they are sent to a shelling facility where they will begin the pampering and preparation before getting sent to another facility that will make them into something delicious.
When some people think of a shelling facility, they might think of a little barn with a few machines that crack open the peanut and move on. However, these factories are much more than that in their size and more importantly, their responsibility in the journey of the peanut.
We had the opportunity to go to Birdsong Peanuts, a shelling facility in Brownfield, TX, and get an inside look at this process.Approaching the facility is overwhelming as the massive size of the facility overtakes the landscape reaching far and wide. All assumptions and ideas of a small farm cracking open peanuts have been erased. Pictured below is the view from the road upon first arriving
Several loading trucks are waiting in line to receive their orders. Employees are walking around inspecting every area with safety gear to ensure that the process runs smoothly. Knowing that even one mistake on this massive assembly could create a chain reaction into the rest of the system is something that these employees are very cautious about, making sure they take the
right steps to help the system run smoothly. We then began our trip with hair nets and safety goggles (For safety and privacy reasons, there were no pictures allowed to be taken inside.)
As soon as you enter, there is an overwhelming presence of machinery and equipment all used for a task that is vital to processing. Peanuts are bouncing, moving fast down assembly lines, and being inspected the entire way to ensure the safest product. The peanuts arrive to the facility from all over the Southwest portion of the U.S.. The West Texas shelling company is capable of receiving peanuts from anywhere in the U.S. for processing, but focuses primarily on Southwest peanuts, and particularly Texas produced peanuts.
After the first cleaning, the peanuts go through the next process in which they are vigorously shaken in order to break open shells and release the peanut inside. However, not every peanut that comes into their facility is shelled. Some peanuts remain in-shell and are exported whole to customers. The volume of shelled peanuts and inshelled peanuts produced varies by the type of peanut being processed and customer demands. Either way, after being shelled or skipping that step, the peanuts are then cleaned again and sent to be weighed. They will then be matched with others their same size and same variety in order to continue their journey through another checking process.
A group of employees will check the peanuts for sticks left behind from the plant, or peanuts with any abnormalities along the way. After this stage, the peanuts move on to be sorted. Texas is the only state to produce all four varieties of peanuts. Because of this, and nation-wide intake, Birdsong handles three of the four varieties of peanuts daily. Perez stated that the volume of each type of peanut handled varies based on consumer and customer needs.
Once the peanuts are separated by category, they are then put back through a process of cleaning and hands-on investigating to ensure the best quality and condition of each peanut. Later, they are sent to a warehouse where they wait to be packaged and shipped out to their new home or to be made into a product such as candy bars like Snickers and M&Ms or peanut butter for a timeless PB&J.
These warehouses are massive in their size and hold several thousand tons of peanuts. Each storage facility is capable of holding a different variety and size of peanut. They are stored in safe conditions that help them stay preserved until they are packaged for shipment to the loading trucks we saw at the beginning of our journey, waiting for their trucks to be loaded to the brim in peanuts.
After the inside scoop, we rode around, observing the other parts of this factory that make the journey of the peanut come to life. There were also several warehouses that appeared a little different in shape. These are silos used to peanut pellets. The pellets these silos hold are made from left over remnants from the peanuts being cleaned and shelled, such as peanut hulls that are removed during the shelling process. The pellets can then be used in animal feeds or fertilizers later, and are collected to eliminate waste and reuse the parts that would otherwise be thrown in the trash. This is a really unique way to increase efficiency of the shelling process and help the environment.
Overall, Birdsong Peanuts consistently provides high quality peanuts. Birdsong works directly with peanut farmers and it is very clear that they support and encourage the peanut industry. By ensuring that these peanuts are sent safely to consumers, it is much easier to advocate for the peanut industry and our farmers that work so hard to ensure stability in our resources. With planting season in full swing, farmers everywhere will soon be loading up their crops to take to a sheller. These peanuts still have a little ways to go before they end up as a delicious snack for you, but from beginning to end, these peanuts are in good hands. #GetToKnowPeanuts