Mark Schnepf says things are peachy keen at his Queen Creek farm, and he's inviting people in to see just how fruity it really is.
Today marks the first day of the farm's annual peach harvest and this time, it's a bumper crop. "Two years ago, we lost 100 percent of our crop to cold weather. It was just a disaster. This year, we have the best and biggest crop I've ever seen," Schnepf said.
Schnepf and his crew have trimmed, thinned and watered 50 acres of peach orchards since January, keeping an eye on both the weather and the delicate treats.
Wednesday, those efforts were apparent, as red golden fruit peeked out from the branches of hundreds of trees. "You have to have a mild spring. It can't be too hot too early," Schnepf said, as he inspected one of his trees.
Although Schnepf Farms sells peaches to a handful of restaurants across the Valley, the only way for the public to buy the fruit is to visit the farm, Schnepf said. Visitors can pick the fruit themselves or buy peaches at the farm's Country Store, which also offers homemade salsas as well as pies, jams and jellies made from farm-grown fruit that includes apricots, plums and apples, Schnepf said.
As part of the peach season, the farm also hosts the Queen Creek Peach Festival, a three-day event May 14-16 this year. The festival and store are ways that Schnepf and his wife, Carrie, are diversifying operations so they can stay on land that's been owned by the Schnepfs for more than 60 years.
"We're really interested in trying to preserve our farm and it's agricultural history for the next generation. We're trying to develop the entertainment and educational angle so that it makes economic sense for us to keep farming," Schnepf said.
The Schnepfs host school and youth groups during weekdays, and the farm is open to the public on most weekends. Youngsters can visit the petting zoo, the agricultural museum and have a go on several rides, including a small roller coaster and the oldest operating carousel in Arizona.
Campers, either in tents or vehicles, can rent a site at the farm, which has full RV service. There's a pavilion and amphitheater that are available for events such as family and school reunions and a 30-acre site that can support up to 35,000 people, Schnepf said.