Valley Bounty: Parched season perfect for peaches

  • Ben Clark and his wife, Lori, and sons Emerson and Lio on the farm this past spring. Family photo

  • The Clarks grow a variety of fruit on their 45-acre farm in Deerfield, but they specialize in peaches. CISA

For the Gazette
Published: 9/12/2020 1:09:45 PM

Though the high heat and dry weather we have seen throughout the Valley has been tough on many field crops, it has provided optimal growing conditions for peaches and other stone fruit.

“The fruit actually tastes sweeter because the lack of excess water causes the sugars to become more concentrated,” explains Ben Clark, co-owner of Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield.

Ben Clark and his father, Tom, own and operate the 45-acre orchard growing peaches, apples, pears, plums, grapes, cherries, winter squash and gourds. Founded in 1915 by Ben’s great-grandfather, Clarkdale Fruit Farms has been growing some of the best fruit in the Valley for over 100 years.

Today, Clarkdale Fruit Farms grows more than 50 varieties of peaches including both white and yellow-flesh peaches. Additionally, they grow “super-sweet” low-acid varieties such as the White Lady that lack the tanginess found in your typical peach. Most varieties have already hit their peak this summer, but certain late-season varieties, such as the Redskin peach, will begin being harvested this weekend.

In addition to the hot and dry weather making the peaches sweeter this season, it also meant lower risk of fungal disease associated with rain and humidity. “Disease always accounts for some crop loss,” Ben says, “but this year we have had to do less spraying than we would in a wet year, which we’re thankful for both from a chemical use standpoint, and from a money and employee time standpoint.”

Clarkdale Fruit Farms uses Integrated Pest Management methods to care for their fruit trees. This means doing the least amount of spraying possible and using less toxic pesticide and fungicide sprays. To target the necessary spraying, they have their own weather station connected to Cornell University in New York that provides weather and disease projection models, and they hire a consultant to visit the farm once a week to provide advice on pest and disease management.

Additionally, they work with the UMass Agricultural Extension, and are currently a location for three research projects studying insects and pests on farms.

“We’ve dealt with pests, namely the spotted wing drosophila, by both using some pesticides when necessary, and by picking the fruit a bit earlier than we used to,” Ben explains. The spotted wing drosophila, also known as the spotted wing fruit fly, originated in East Asia. After making its way to New York in 2011, it has spread rapidly across the United States, primarily targeting soft fruits such as raspberries, blueberries and peaches.

While most drosophila species infest only rotting fruit, the spotted wing fruit fly infests fruit in the early ripening stages before harvest.

Fresh, local peaches will not be in season for much longer. Visit Clarkdale Fruit Farm’s store in Deerfield to get them while they last, along with their wide variety of apples and other products from local farms such as Old Friends Farm, Kitchen Garden Farm, Diemand Farm and more. Their orchard will be open for pick-your-own apples beginning this weekend.

To find other farms open near you, visit buylocalfood.org/farmguide.

Emma Gwyther is the development associate at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.




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