Longleaf pine forests once stretched across 92 million acres from Virginia to Texas. In 1720, the British pushed their American colonies to tap as many trees as possible for the lumber, rosin and turpentine — naval stores — needed to keep the king’s navy afloat.
The industry, at first, centered on eastern North Carolina. But as the trees were cut, operations shifted south into Georgia’s virgin pine forests. By 1890, Georgia was No. 1 in turpentine production. Much of the success, though, was built on the backs of African-American slaves, freemen, convicts and sharecroppers who did the hot, dirty, dangerous work of cutting the trees, gathering the tar, building the barrels and distilling the gum.
Now, one family in Georgia is (ethically) reviving the turpentine industry on their 500 acre farm. “We saw ourselves as a grass-roots effort to revive an industry once thriving in this area,” said Julie Griner, an elementary school teacher who doubles as the family’s marketing whiz. “Back during the recession, in ‘07 and ‘08, I remember (husband) Chip saying: ‘Look around. There is money in these trees and people are going around hungry.’”
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