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A Southern duel over peach pride

Alabama lawmakers declared the peach the state fruit last week, ripening its friendly rivalry with neighboring Georgia.

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You won't catch Jimmy Martin biting into a peach from the Peach State.

The Alabama state representative says he's got nothing against Georgia, per se. But the fruit from the trees in his native Chilton County, he says, have brighter "cheeks" and a juicier tang. That's why he proposed that the peach become the state fruit of Alabama - a motion that easily passed the Alabama House of Representatives last week. "Chilton County, Alabama, is the center of the peach," Rep. Martin, a Democrat, proclaims. And he doesn't mean the pit.

That claim doesn't sit well with some Georgia growers. After all, Georgia is a state that drops an 800-pound fiberglass peach from a tower in Atlanta on New Year's Eve and which has, to the consternation of travelers, named dozens of roads Peachtree this and Peachtree that. Alabama legislators knew the fuss they'd be stirring up. In fact, so keen were they on ribbing their neighbor state that they added the peach even though Alabama already has a state fruit: the blackberry.

"Georgia has some of the best peaches in the country, second only to those in Alabama," says Alabama Rep. Cam Ward (R) of Alabaster, exercising the peculiar Southern trait of couching a dig in a compliment. "Georgia has done a lot with the economic boom of Atlanta, but at the same time we like to point out some of the areas where they fall second."

While both states were carved from the old Creek Indian Territory, Georgia is an original colony that encouraged national and international interests while Alabama became a plantation frontier where industrialists made deals with cotton farmers to make sure outsiders didn't move in on their cash flow - ancient handshakes that haunt the state to this day, historians say.

From legendary collegiate gridiron battles to tracking contests between university biologists hunting Asian soybean rust in the vast bean fields along the kudzu-bedecked borderlands, the disparity between the two Deep South powers breeds a sometimes heady friction.

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