Interview With Jeff Worn: South Georgia Pecan Company
I remember being a young, physically active teenager and religiously raiding the pantry for peanut butter. I’d literally eat it straight out of the container with a spoon. I must’ve devoured my weight in peanut butter every month, easily. As the Paleo community can guess, eating copious amounts of unclean peanut butter eventually took its toll. Even today, I look at peanut butter and my stomach twists, even though my taste buds are still all for chowing down. Thankfully, my days of returning to the pantry have returned, thanks to Jeff Worn, VP of the Southern Georgia Pecan Company. SGPC makes an amazing pecan butter, without all the extra garbage normally found in peanut butter.
Happy to have you here today, Jeff. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and some backstory on how the SGPC came to be?
Thanks for having me, Jonathan. So, South Georgia Pecan Company was actually started in 1913 by the Pearlman family here in Valdosta, GA. They would process small amounts of Pecans to send up North where their family was from as gifts and over time it turned into a business.
As time went on the company grew and a major food company at the time, Beatrice Foods bought SGPC in 1970 from the Pearlman family. My father started working here in 1971 and he bought the company from Beatrice in 1983 as they were transitioning from small cap to large cap.
I was born in 1985 and literally grew up in this business learning everything I could from a very young age all the way to today running the company with my father. We are truly a farm to fork Pecan processor with plants in South Georgia and Southwest Texas centralized to raw material.
How did you come to find yourself in the Paleo community? What were some of your first impressions of the Paleo lifestyle? Have you been fully converted yet? What led you to the ultimate decision to make your pecan butter clean?
I broke my ankle playing football in the 9th grade and the break was bad enough that I couldn’t really compete like I wanted to or had before surgery so team sports pretty much ended for me then and there. I was still a very active person outdoors hunting, fishing and scuba diving every chance I got, but my ankle continued to give me issues with bone spurs/arthritis.
By the time I had graduated from college I had gone through one knee surgery and 4 more ankle operations. Sounds like a great time to pick up triathlon right? Well, that’s what I did. And as painful as running was I still did it until I tore my other meniscus on a taper run.
That was the end of triathlon for me as CrossFit was really coming on the scene at that point and required much less running. That was where I was introduced to paleo via the Whole30 diet. I was fully converted and stay that way to this day. When I first converted my eating during Whole3o I remember feeling tired, but once my body converted, it was there to stay.
Pecans are full of healthy fats and very low in sugar (they also contain more antioxidants than any other tree nut). It was honestly mine to screw up from a formulation stand point and adding things from the beginning, in my head would have done just that.
If you have a raw material that tastes good with nothing in it, you have to add very little of anything for future variations making the butter as close to its raw state no matter how many different variations you do. I like real, clean food, not something that tries to rename some ingredient as something that sounds better to make me buy it.
I am the one that takes this product from the farm to what it is on your banana, I don’t need to add anything to make it affordable, therefore product integrity can and will remain #1.
Talk to us about your pecan butter. Is it an ancient family recipe guarded by armed guards and laser beams? Where do you get your pecans from? Can you walk us through the typical lifespan of a jar of pecan butter from field to the shelf?
Haha I wish. That would make for great marketing, but it’s just Pecans man. It’s all in how I make it. And that is guarded by armed guards and laser beams. My Pecans come from family farms just like my family business.
Will and J.B. Easterlin in Montezuma, GA., Chop and Lee Evans in Fort Valley, Georgia, Thomas and Trent Mason, in Fort Valley Georgia, Ashley and Buck Paulk in Valdosta, Georgia, Tim and Jake Montz in Wichita Falls, Texas, and last but certainly not least David Sr. and David Jr. Salopek in Las Cruces, New Mexico. There are tons of others across the nation and right here at home.
Pecans are grown on a tree in a green fibery, husk, that covers a hard shell outside, that covers another fibery inside layer that the Pecan kernel sits directly next to during development. Once the husk splits (roughly Oct.20 forward through the fall depending on variety) the Pecans are shaken out of the tree with a piece of equipment that is specifically designed to do so without damaging the tree.
The In-shell Pecans are now on the orchard floor. The Pecans are then swept into windows and harvested with specialized equipment. Once harvested, the Pecans are cleaned of dust, sticks and stone, etc., then frozen to be processed to order.
Once we have projections and orders, we can schedule production which requires pasteurization of the outside of the shell to eliminate any pathogen that could be present, then cracking, separation of halves/pieces along with all foreign material. After the Pecans have been totally cleaned, they either packed for the retail, ingredient, turned into butter or further processed in roasting or seasoning of some sort.
When is your harvest season? When’s the best time of the year to get your pecan butter at its freshest? Is it okay to freeze your pecan butter to extend shelf-life, or does it even matter?
Our harvest season is in full swing Oct. 20 on through the Fall through January. You can definitely freeze them. New crop Pecans are definitely here in the Fall, but we freeze the raw material in the shell ensuring freshness year round! We don’t have a bunch of finished goods sitting around waiting to be processed at frozen or ambient temps. We keep all Pecans in the shell as long as possible before orders are placed.
Where can I find SGPC Pecan Butter in stores? How can I keep your butter out of the reach of small children and hungry adults?
You can find us in Birdies Market in Valdosta, GA., Native Sun in Jacksonville, FL., Cupboard Natural Foods in Denton, TX., soon in Farmview Market Eatonton, GA. and on Amazon Prime.
Out of reach??? How about, to reach?