- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

This summer, climb the sun-drenched slopes of a lovely orchard. Pick fruit so ripe and warm you can't help taking a bite right there. Fill a basket or two as much as you can carry. Then, stop for a rest under the shade of the trees, and see how many pictures you can see in the clouds above your head.

Have the old-fashioned kind of summer, with homemade ice cream and fresh fruit cobbler and tomatoes that really taste like tomatoes. It's all part of the experience at Cherry Hill Farm in Fort Washington. More than 60 acres of apples, peaches, pears, nectarines, raspberries and other fruits are available in season for "picking your own." Yellow- and white-fleshed peaches; red, green and golden apples; even the hard-to-find Asian apple-pears are ready and waiting.

The orchard's trees have low, leafy branches, so even young children can reach the fruit. Baskets are provided for pickers' convenience, and the per-pound prices are posted each day. Just grab some baskets, pick what you want and pay for what you pick. It's OK to nibble a little, the owners say, but please, exercise restraint. "Tasting is okay: Feasting No Way" says the posted sign.

After paying for your bounty, head down to the farm's bakery and produce store, where you can experience the riches of country living. Creamy, homemade ice cream, made with the fruit in season, is swirled into cones.

The peach tastes like a fresh-picked peach, not just vanilla with a bit of peach mixed in here and there. Right now, fresh raspberry ice cream is available. Apple pie ice cream or hot caramel apple in a bowl are autumn specialties.

At the bakery, the farm's produce is transformed into amazing concoctions: apple cider doughnuts, peach cheesecake, jam and preserves, dehydrated fruits, and fresh apple cider all made on the premises. Vegetables, picked fresh that day, await customers in search of the perfect salad or most succulent ears of corn.

On one wall of the store are photos of the six generations of the Gallahan family who have worked the farm since before the Civil War. When William Gallahan arrived in America during the potato famine in his native Ireland, he naturally took up farming, eventually purchasing the farmland. Although he initially raised potatoes, over the years, the Gallahans have branched out.

Until a few months ago, great-grandmother Emma Gallahan, the matriarch of the family, was still working actively on the farm along with her son Alton, daughter-in-law Pat, and their seven adult children, spouses and 17 grandchildren. As they proclaim on their literature, Cherry Hill Farm is a place "Where Growing the Finest is a Family Affair."

Everyone helps out. Son Mike and his wife, Sue, pioneered the bakery operation, and get up at 2:30 a.m. to bake the doughnuts, breads, pies and cakes that are their unique creations. Son Danny manages the commercial harvesting and sales to the produce departments of area supermarkets. Teen-age grandchildren serve customers and do other jobs. Some of the grandchildren are home-schooled, so farming, business, education and fun are all done with the family at the center.

With their strong family orientation, it's natural for the Gallahans to know what families enjoy. They love to create imaginative events for children.

On Sunday, the Gallahan grandchildren will host customers' children at a back-to-school banana-split party. While the children are enjoying the clowns and ice cream, parents can browse around or stock up on some fresh produce or specialties.

In the autumn, Pat and her daughters dress up 482 scarecrows in every kind of outfit imaginable: "She even used my wedding dress," her daughter Colleen laughs. Scarecrows attired in three-piece business suits or Elvis regalia or hundreds of other costumes are set up throughout the farm so visitors taking a hayride can spot them.

Each weekend of the Fall Harvest Festival has different entertainment for the visitors: magic shows, clowns, pumpkin carvers or 1950s rock 'n' roll events. Children enjoy the cornfield mazes, the farm animal petting zoo, and many other child-friendly activities. And every visitor gets to pick out a pumpkin from the patch.

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