The rest of the world seems pretty far away when you’re standing in the middle of a peach orchard.
Birds sing. Insects whir. Farm machinery hums low in the distance. And children call out and laugh as they search for the rosiest fruit on the trees.
At least, that’s what Jen Herbrandson’s daughters and niece are doing. Herbrandson, of Chandler, and her mother-in-law, Ruth, have brought the girls on a morning peach-picking expedition at Schnepf Farms. The fourth-generation working farm and agritainment empire in Queen Creek opens its orchards four days per week each May for pick-it-yourself produce.
Schnepf also hosts its annual Peach Festival the next two weekends. The popular event features carnival rides, pie-eating and pit-spitting contests, food samples and chef demonstrations. There’s also a Peachy Pancake Breakfast available each morning, and the farm bakery churns out fresh peach cinnamon rolls and pies.
The farm grows six varieties of peaches in eight orchards. Despite brutal frosts over the winter that took a quarter of the peaches in some orchards, there’s still plenty of fruit on the trees, says owner Mark Schnepf. Poppy apricots are also ripening now, and both fruits are availabe for picking during the Peach Festival.
Jerry Feheley prefers the solitude of the orchards on non-festival days. The Sun Lakes retiree has picked peaches at Schnepf Farms every May for 10 years, putting up with bugs and heat to get enough peaches for his and his wife’s breakfast cereal.
“They’re really good — much better than what you find in the stores. When you come out here to get them yourself, you get a really fresh peach,” he says, adding that the 70-year-old farm’s peach orchards are about the only ones left in the area.
“When we first moved here, we used to go all around for peaches, but these are the last ones.”
Schnepf’s Florida Prince and Earligrande peaches cost $1.90 per pound. Apricots are $2 per pound.
A U-Pick Extravaganza begins in June, when okra, beets, turnips, pickling cucumbers, radishes, summer squash, sweet onions, potatoes, sweet corn, green beans, zucchini, green onions and carrots are expected to be available for picking in the farm’s 7-acre pesticide-free garden. Apples, plums and melons should also be ripe then.
“It takes me back,” says Ruth Herbrandson of Ahwatukee Foothills, who plans to make a peach custard pie from her pickings. “I had an aunt and uncle who had a peach farm back in Michigan, and we used to go every Fourth of July. It reminds me of bygone days.”
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