Every summer, I eagerly look forward to peach season. I know that since Eden the apple has been the primal fruit for most folks, but for me it’s always been the peach. This is not to cast aspersions on the hardworking, reliable apple; I love a good apple – but for sweet seduction I will choose a summer-ripe, run-down-your-chin-juicy peach. However, good peaches are hard to find. Supermarket peaches are worthless: hard, flavorless. And peaches are high on the “dirty dozen” – the list of fruits and vegetables that, when conventionally grown, test high for pesticide residue. If you are going to eat peaches, go organic.
So I am thrilled when I discover Dan Rosato and Oak Villa Farm at the Salem Saturday Market. Dan grows several other crops as well, notably Italian plums, raspberries and blackberries, but the organic peaches are what draw me to his 19-acre farm in the hills above Dallas early on a hot sunny morning. Dan looks like everyone’s idea of a farmer: stocky, brown from the sun; he has a wide grin and a firm handshake. He’s a little reserved, a little diffident. “Don’t expect a manicured place,” he tells me when I first call.
He shows me the acres of Italian plum trees that were already there when he bought the farm. Plums are a good crop for his farm because they require little water. Water is an issue here in the Dallas hills; Dan has to be careful to schedule his watering. He’s thinking of putting in some cherry trees; he figures they will work well with the trees he already has, as they require watering earlier in the season than peaches or plums. I think of how complex farming is: how many factors need to be considered, and how careful a good farmer must be to make sure everything works as a whole.
We come to the peach trees. Dan has 120 eight-year-old trees and grows three kinds of peaches: Flamin’ Fury, Frost and Veteran. The Flamin’ Furies come in several varieties – they are large and sweet and juicy and a beautiful rosy red. He gives me one to try and I gobble it happily as we walk through the orchard. The Veteran is a canning peach: easy to peel, super-freestone and sweet; Dan sells them by the box to home canners. Frost is his favorite. He picks one for me. “It’s not much to look at,” he says deprecatingly, “but it’s very tasty.” The peach he hands me is rather small, and it has a greenish tinge, but when I bite into it I’m in peach heaven: honey-sweet, slightly lemony – the juice runs down my chin, my hands are sticky.
Dan takes apart the drip irrigation hose so I can wash off. “It can be a little discouraging, how people won’t even try something, if they don’t like the look of it. The Frosts are easier to market in Salem than Portland – people here know more about fruit.”
Oak Villa Farm is certified organic by Oregon Tilth. Dan fertilizes his trees with chicken manure, and sprays with copper to combat peach leaf curl in November, December and February. Peaches are disease-free in summer, and he doesn’t spray for insects, so the trees are never sprayed when the fruit is hanging. I notice that the occasional peach shows a bit of insect damage – a tiny scab where an insect has tasted the sweet juice. Bugs are more discerning than some people, apparently, when it comes to fruit.
Oak Villa Farm sells at the Portland farmers’ market and the Salem Wednesday and Saturday markets. Dan’s organic fruit sells for equal or less than conventionally grown fruit, because with some help in the market booths from his wife Caprice, he does almost all of the farmwork himself.
I’m about to leave; we shake hands. It’s getting hot – the weather report says it will break 100 degrees today. After I go, Dan will pick a dozen lug boxes of peaches, then think about taking the rest of the day off.
“Dirty dozen” according to the Environmental Working Group. Reference: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/health/the-dirty-dozen-and-clean-15-of-produce/616/
These test high for pesticide residue:
sweet bell peppers
spinach, kale and collard greens