In a good year, Pearson Farm, which spreads out around the town of Fort Valley south of Macon, will harvest between 2 and 3.5 million pounds of pecans, making it one of the top growers in America's number one state for pecan production. Many of the nuts will be shipped unshelled to China in 1,200- to 1,400-pound bags to be eaten primarily out of hand. (In recent years, Chinese demand for pecans has sent prices to historic highs, and a few of Pearson's pistol-packing farmer buddies have chased nut bandits off their land.) Some will turn up in gourmet gift baskets or be transformed into cookies, cakes, and candies by home cooks in the South and beyond. And some, Pearson informs me proudly, will end up on the menus of high-end establishments like Thomas Keller's New York City restaurant Per Se, where they star in Keller's high falutin version of bourbon pecan pie. We climb out of the truck, and I notice Pearson watching his step. When he tells me that each nut in this pecan-carpeted orchard is worth a nickel, I'm floored. (In 2011, during the height of the pecan boom, unshelled pecans were fetching an average of $2.43 a pound.) To think I used to sell my family's pecans for a quarter a pound back in the 1960s. From here on, I tiptoe.