South Georgia is known for its agricultural roots. Farmers can trace their heritage back through fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers and beyond. This holds especially true for the city of Colquitt, Georgia. This small town is literally surrounded by farmland and pastures. Don't be surprised if you get stuck behind a gigantic peanut planter or cotton picker while on the road. (I learned the hard way that I needed to leave early for school during planting and picking seasons.)
Colquitt is always looking for a way to pay tribute to the area's rich heritage. A few ways city leaders do this is through plays at the Cotton Hall Theater, hosting fun events like Drive Your Tractor to School Day, and painting murals all around town.
One mural in particular tends to stand out when you drive through town. You can pretty much see it from anywhere inside the city limits. "The Spirit Farmer" stands at a whopping 100 feet tall and covers 27,000 square feet of a working peanut silo. It also happens to be the largest hand-painted mural in the United States. (The peanuts in the mural are roughly six feet tall.) "The Spirit Farmer" is known to locals by other names such as "The Peanut Farmer" or "That Big Mural on the Silo." However, after its completion in 2010, it became known as the Agricultural Icon Mural.
People come from all over the world to see this beautiful artwork by Charlie Johnston of Winnipeg, Canada. He spent months working in the heat and humidity of a South Georgia late summer. Johnston washed, primed and painted this mural entirely by hand and used about 500 gallons of paint.
"The Spirit Farmer" is a beautiful tribute to farmers because it shows the true ups and downs of being a farmer. The mural depicts a farmer inspecting his peanut crop to see if it's ready for harvest. You don't just throw some seeds on the ground, wait for them to grow, and harvest them; Farming is so much more than that. You have to know when to plant, what to plant, where to plant it, and how to take care of the crop once it's in the dirt. You have to know that too much water can be as bad as not enough. There are long nights and early mornings and long nights that roll over into early mornings. There's hot and cold, rain and drought. There's never a guarantee that the crops will do well.
Peanuts are a big part of Colquitt. Birdsong Peanut Company owns and operates the silo the mural is painted on and is located right down the road. (My dad actually worked there for a long time before he transferred to a different Birdsong plant.) Colquitt, also known as The First Mural City, is proud of all 16 of its paintings of times gone by, but this one seems to be the most popular. There's a sort of serenity in taking in the sight of the wrinkles on the farmer's forehead. There's no doubt that they were put there by years of wisdom passed down from generation to generation. There's a beauty in knowing it will be passed down again, to the curious children who ask, "Who is that man in the painting?"
Even though we may not know who he was or if he was even real, there's a peace in knowing that someone will answer that question and plant the seeds of knowledge in those young, curious minds.