In just over 2 days, we picked and sold all of the peaches from our 130 Harvester peach trees. These trees represent approximately 20% of the entire crop we’ll get from the orchard this year, so I think it’s safe to say that Stephenville, TX likes tree ripened peaches.
In the past, whenever people heard that we had planted a whole mess of peach trees (almost 1000 trees now) they almost invariably asked us, “So what’r ya gonna do with all those peaches?” It’s a fair question but, to be honest, the answer has always been something to the tune of, “I hope sell them, but we really don’t know how that’s going to work out.”
We have the answer now. Selling the peaches appears to be what we’re gonna do with all’a them peaches.
This time last week, we hadn’t ever even picked more than a few dozen peaches, much less sold any. Last year would have been the first tiny crop, but they got wiped out by a massive last-minute hail storm in June of 2019. While we had hoped to be a bit more experienced going into this weekend, we didn’t really have a choice but to bite the bullet and see what would happen. We spent weeks planning and preparing but in the end we knew that this weekend would be a significant learning experience. We weren’t disappointed. Here’s a bunch of the stuff we learned:
1. It takes a LOT of work to sell peaches.
Going into the weekend we assumed that between myself, Tiffany, 2 of our kids, and one orchard hand that the 5 of us would be more than capable of handling the workload. Wow, were we wrong. Before long, both sets of grandparents showed up to lend a hand, as well as a couple of siblings and their spouses. Even after more than doubling the amount of workers, we were still utterly crushed under the work load.
We got up at 6am Saturday morning and started picking peaches by sometime after 7am. Our lack of experience had us bumbling around each other as we tried to setup the stand, figure out how to wash and grade the peaches, decide how best to package them … it was chaos, if I’m honest. Somehow, despite all of the confusion, we still managed to sell about 60 trees worth of peaches by 4pm. Tired and exhausted, we naturally stayed up until nearly 1am planning and preparing to do it all again the next day.
2. Tree ripened peaches have a learning curve
For years now, we have known that the reason a local peach orchard can sell so many peaches (despite the fact that the local grocery stores have plenty of peaches on their shelves) is because the peaches that the grocery store sells and the peaches that a local orchard sells are distinctively different products.
There is a paradox about peaches that is hard to solve for a grocery store. Unlike bananas that continue to ripen and get sweeter as they age on your counter-top, peaches do not continue to ripen after you pick them. This may go against what you think you know. If you’re a longtime buyer of peaches at the grocery store, you know that leaving them on the counter for a few days can help to soften them up and make them taste a bit better. However, the difference that you’re tasting in those grocery store peaches isn’t an increase in the sweetness but is, instead, a reduction in the tartness / sourness that makes them appear sweeter. Here’s the problem for the grocery stores. Peaches become truly sweet in the last week that they are on the tree. Unfortunately, by the time the peach is truly sweet, it is no longer able to be shipped anywhere. It will degrade extremely quickly even if refrigerated. Because a grocery store needs a product that must have some reasonable amount of shelf life, while also enduring the rigors of being packaged and shipped to the store, the grocery stores have to do the unthinkable. Grocery stores have to have the peaches picked a week or so early … before they’re sweet.
Enter your local peach orchard. We hand picked, washed, graded, and packaged every one of those peaches within about 30-60 minutes of them getting into your hands. If the fruit was to be left standing out for more than even a few minutes, we moved them into a refrigerator to help curb the crashing onset of degradation that occurs in a truly tree ripened peach.
So here lies the learning curve for our customers. Folks who have been buying peaches from the grocery store all their lives naturally would assume that the peaches they purchase at the roadside would have some reasonable measure of shelf life. Instead of refrigerating them if not used immediately, some folks would (incorrectly) leave them on the counter so they’d be even better the next day. The results were about what you would imagine, or even worse, what you yourself experienced in the last couple days. Bruised, sad, peach mush that just makes your heart sad.
3. Tree ripened peaches CANNOT be stacked in a bag.
After reading the last section you’d think that we would have already known that you cannot stack peaches in a bag to sell them. I suppose we did, to some extent, already know this. Despite the fact that the plastic crates that we picked our peaches into have nice 8 inch tall side walls, we never put more than a single layer of peaches into a crate. It was extremely inefficient to pick peaches like that, but we knew that stacking them up would result in the softening and bruising of the delicate flesh of a tree ripened peach. Somehow, despite this knowledge, we thought it would be a great idea to package peaches for customers into nice tall bags. What were we thinking?! Sure, they were top notch when we put them into that bag, but about 5 minutes into the car ride home they were already getting bruised and ugly.
The unfortunate result was a few customers who got home with something far less beautiful than what went into the bag.
4. Texans are friendly!
One of the biggest surprises was on the second day. Even after staying up late into the night the previous day to prepare for the second (ever) day of selling peaches, we just couldn’t get out there on time. We still stumbled around trying to get setup. Only this time, the word had gotten out that we were selling peaches and there was a line of customers before we had even setup a single part of our stand.
Rather than stand idly by, customers jumped in and helped us setup the stand. Some folks even stuck around to help sell for a few hours. There wasn’t a single complaint heard or disparaging word uttered. Just smiles, offers of help, and patience by the ten-gallon hat. I don’t know if people felt sorry for us or if they were just being Texas friendly, but either way it was a great blessing to us.
5. People want to talk to farmers
I’ll never forget my first and only visit to the Parker county peach festival. It was a couple years after we had become self-dubbed peach farmers and I remember the great anticipation that I had of meeting and talking to other local peach farmers. I’d already met a few of them from nearby towns over the years and I just knew that this was going to be the greatest meeting of the peach minds that I had ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Boy, was I wrong. I looked high and low for the peach farmers but I couldn’t find them for all of the local flea market craft tables. When I did finally find the ONLY PEACHES at the Parker County Peach Festival, they were being hastily dumped from large corrugated boxes into plastic sacks and practically thrown to customers who gave the workers their cash and were then quickly hustled away from the long line of buyers. There were no peach farmers there, just an assembly line of peaches / bags / cash / exit.
You’d think that armed with my “peach festival” experience I would have expected the natural curiosity and desire of folks to talk to us about the orchard. My wife, Tiffany, just oozed “peach farmer facts” and answered every question with a genuine smile all day long. I hope that we didn’t leave any customer feeling rushed off or unfulfilled in their desire to chat, but we definitely didn’t expect how much people would want to talk. In truth, we love chatting about the orchard! Next time, we’ll both be at the stand to meet with customers and talk to them about the peach trees.
6. Demand for tree ripe peaches is crazy high
Picking the fruit on the first day was janky process that just couldn’t keep up with customer demand. By the second day we had refined the process and we had doubled the amount of staff picking and cleaning fruit and we still could not keep up with demand. In the course of just over 2 days, Stephenville, TX consumed 130 trees worth of peaches. Never in my life would I have guessed there would be such demand.
The second day of selling fruit saw folks who had come the first day, COMING BACK AGAIN THE NEXT DAY to get more peaches. It was a thrill to see that they had such a positive experience that they came right back at their first opportunity.
We got so caught up in trying to figure out how to sell peaches that we completely forgot to figure out how to STOP selling peaches. I know it sounds a bit silly, but at the end of the first day we ran out of fruit while there were still customers pulling up. In retrospect, we really needed a better exit strategy. Breaking down the peach stand took at least half an hour and all the while people kept stopping.
For the next couple of days, despite the fact that there wasn’t even a sign at the front of the property, dozens of folks kept driving all the way to the back of the orchard where we have a warehouse (for our other business) and asked the warehouse guys if they could buy peaches. We made a Facebook post to tell customers we were sold out, but that didn’t help. We added a sign on our half mile driveway that gave our phone number, but that still didn’t help. It wasn’t until we made a large 4×8 sign and hung it at the front of the property that folks stopped driving back asking for peaches. Don’t get me wrong, we were THRILLED to have those folks looking to buy some peaches, but we felt bad that we hadn’t come up with a better means of telling the public that we didn’t have any left to sell!
We have fielded many questions on Facebook and through calls and texts asking, “When will you have more peaches?” Because the trees are still young, this year’s crop is a small one, meaning we just can’t keep up with demand. Peaches are popular!
Thankfully, the trees in the orchard are still maturing. If all goes well, next year will see nearly twice as many peaches coming off of those trees, along with several hundred more trees also reaching fruit producing maturity over the next few years. Hopefully, we will find a happy balance in the future where we are able to provide a timely product that meets customer demand properly.
7. We need other peach things to sell.
So many customers asked if we had other peach products to sell. They wanted jams and jellies, they wanted cobbler, they wanted ice cream – heck I wanted some peach ice cream. Unfortunately, because these were the first peaches we had ever harvested, we hadn’t had a chance to make other peach products. We hadn’t even been able to test recipes. We couldn’t create recipes using store bought peaches because they just aren’t as ripe.
That said, we have been hard at work over the last week testing recipes and working on some fun goodies for you guys. The most surprising thing here is that we cannot simply use normal recipes that you find on the internet. Because most of those recipes use store bought peaches, when you make the recipe with tree ripe peaches they tend to come out a bit too sweet. Ice cream and cobbler are exceptions to that though. Man … those taste absolutely outstanding with these peaches.
8. Location. Location? Location!
Selling fruit from the side of the road was always plan A. After doing it for just 2 days, we have some new found understanding.
- It definitely helps increase customer traffic. A huge number of people said that they simply saw us on the side of the road and stopped. Many customers were from well out of the area and just driving along 281 to get where they were going.
- The 3rd day, we picked a tiny bit of remaining fruit and rather than sell it on the side of the road, we opted to sell it online where we could set a stock level so that we wouldn’t oversell. Setting up the stand would have brought in far more customers than we could have served with that small bit of fruit that was left on the trees. It was a real surprise to find that people snapped up those peaches; even off of the website. They drove out to the orchard and met us in the back parking lot where we brought the peaches out to them and sent them on their way.
- Selling by the roadside is potentially not as safe. It’s a bunch of cars and people parked/standing next to a 70mph road. On a couple occasions, customers leaving the orchard pulled out in front of cars that had to visibly slow down to accommodate the traffic. We will be talking to TXDOT folks to see how we can do this better in a couple of weeks when the next cultivar is ripe. We want to sell you peaches, but not if it’s going to put somebody in danger.
Overall, we know that our location is important to being able to sell the peaches successfully. We have peach friends who have their own orchards who aren’t blessed with the high traffic road right by their orchards, not to mention a sizable population center only a couple miles away that can help to feed them customers. The result is a higher level of difficulty in selling their product. We are very blessed with our location.
Until the next crop!
The ranger peaches will be ripe in just 2-3 weeks. They’re just starting to get plump and gaining their first blushes of red. We’re hard at work trying to apply all of the experience we have gained in the last few days so that we can do even better for you the next go-round. Thanks for all of the love and support that you have showered on us. If there’s something else you feel like we should have learned, please tell us! Message us on Facebook or even give us a call. We need to know what else we need to know!