- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

It's 10 a.m. on a Saturday in mid-July, and the sun is already beating down on the wooden stand next to the dusty road that fronts the peach orchard in Piscataway, right across the Potomac from Mount Vernon.

Glenn Little, dressed in denim overalls and a railway cap a reminder of his days as a brakeman on the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad sits on a stool in front of the produce scale, barely moving in the heat. His wife, Druecella Little, a wet towel cooling the back of her neck, hollers down the rows of trees, dotted peachy pink with ripening fruit.
"The last three rows to the left," she calls to the man with a baby on his shoulders. "The left." She motions with her arms.
Oblivious, the man continues walking.
"The biggest and the ripest peaches are over there," she says with a shrug, then turns to a visitor. "Nothing's ready for picking where he's headed."
The Littles, both in their 80s, live in Accokeek and have been working at the peach orchards at Alton and Pat Gallahan's Cherry Hill Farm for about 20 years. Mrs. Little started in 1982, with Mr. Little, after retirement, following a year later.
Mrs. Little chats with every peach-picker who pulls up to the stand, directing them to the ripest, juiciest and most plentiful peaches in the orchard, while Mr. Little weighs the haul, figures the price and records each total by hand, making long columns of tiny numbers on a sheet of paper.
"Only 89 cents a pound," he says. "Same as last year."
Ruby Epps, a customer for 20 years, heaves two bushel baskets of a yellow clingstone peach called Garnet Beauty onto the whitewashed counter.
"My first pick always goes to friends and neighbors," Mrs. Epps says.
"You're giving all these away?" Mrs. Little asks, placing the peaches in large clear bags.
"As much as I give, I receive," Mrs. Epps says. "No, more. Never have I given away anything that I haven't received much, much more." She gazes up and smiles.
Glenn Little calculates the price: $16 and change.
"I've spent a lot more than this before," Mrs. Epps says as she writes the check. "I can or freeze them. Nothing is as good as fresh peaches in the winter. Cook them up with a little nutmeg or bake them in a cobbler."
"Mmmm," Mrs. Little says. "Glenn takes them out the night before and has them with his cereal the next morning."
Mrs. Epps nods. "You can do that, too," she says as the two women tote the bags of peaches to the car.
"See you next week," Mrs. Epps calls, starting her car engine.
Mrs. Little smiles and waves. "We'll be picking Red Havens by then," she calls as Mrs. Epps' car rolls down the dusty path toward the main road. The Red Haven, first out in mid-July, is the most popular yellow-fleshed peach at Cherry Hill Farm.

At any number of pick-your-own, or PYO, farms scattered throughout Virginia and Maryland you can find this down-home friendliness and juicy peaches to boot.
Don't let the reputations of Georgia or South Carolina as peach states deter you from local picking. Virginia and Maryland farmers have grown peaches successfully since the seedlings made their way northward after being introduced by the Spaniards in Florida 500 years ago. In fact, many of the PYO peach orchards in this area are tended by the same families that first cultivated local peaches.
The Gallahans' Cherry Hill Farm, for example, has been in the Gallahan family since before the Civil War. In Markham, Va., in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains just east of Front Royal, Stribling Orchard and Hartland Orchard, which call themselves the two biggest peach producers in Fauquier County, have a similar history.
Once one large plantation, the Stribling and Hartland farms both 100 percent PYO face each other across Interstate 66 and are owned by the Stribling and Green families, distant relatives. The Stribling family has owned its land since 1819. Robert Stribling is the orchard's sixth-generation owner. Bill Green, who owns and runs Hartland Orchard, is not sure how long it has been in his family, but he says its main house dates to 1755.
"We've farmed the land for over 150 years," says Mr. Green, who takes care that a member of his family greets each carload of peach-pickers.
At Cherry Hill almost all the Gallahans are involved in farm business. Alton Gallahan's sons, Mike and Danny, own the place along with their father. Danny runs it day-to-day; Mike and his wife, Susan, are the farm-market bakers and rise some mornings shortly after midnight to rustle up the peach-filled doughnuts, peach pies and peach cream-cheese bread sold daily at the market. In the farm market, 13-year-old Molly Bird, daughter of Colleen Gallahan Bird, serves the peach ice cream her grandmother Pat Gallahan makes.
All of the children are up on the family history. "We started selling our produce from a roadside stand," says Jennifer Gallahan, 20, Mike and Susan's daughter, who works the cash register at the farm market. "Little by little we've grown over the years. Our most recent addition was the renovation to the market a few years back."

But whether they farm in Maryland or Virginia, these fruit growers agree: Growing peaches is not all peaches-and-cream.
"Peach trees don't live too long. They're susceptible to weather and disease," says Lynne Phillips, who runs the Stribling Orchard sales office. No single peach tree at Stribling dates back more than 30 years.
"Our apple orchards are much older 70 years or more," Ms. Phillips says. "Apple trees tend to be hardier."
Local orchards felt the effect of the late freezes last spring, especially the last frost at the end of May. Several smaller orchards lost the majority of their crop.
"One degree lower and we would have lost the entire peach crop," says Alton Gallahan at Cherry Hill Farm, which lost about 10 percent of its peaches when the temperature dipped to 26 degrees Fahrenheit in the orchard. If the mercury had dropped to 24 degrees, Cherry Hill would have lost 90 percent of its crop.
To ensure the biggest and best peaches, peach-growers thin their crops by taking a long stick with a rubber hose and knocking off a certain number of young peaches per branch. Usually about 10 peaches are taken down for every one that is kept. The ratio is determined by the number of spring frosts.
"There is a science to it, but basically, the more frost we have in the spring, the less peach blossoms there will be, and therefore, less fruit will have to be knocked down. After the spring frosts, we didn't take down nearly as many as in past years," says Ms. Phillips at Stribling Orchard.
Mr. Green, who installed heaters up in the Hartland orchards to save his peach crop, did not have to knock off any peaches this year because so many peach blossoms froze and no fruit came in. In spite of that, he believes there will be plenty of peaches available for picking throughout the Washington region into September.
"Bring your spouse, your children, your pet and your picnic basket," Mr. Green says, pointing to the picnic tables on a nearby bluff, overlooking the serene green valley between Hartland and Stribling orchards. "All are welcome, and don't forget to sample a little of what you are picking," he says, twisting open a Red Haven peach and taking a bite of the juicy flesh.

Peaches come in hundreds of varieties, including new hybrids. No matter which variety you choose, freestone are typically preferred over clingstone. Designated free or cling by how the peach flesh adheres to the stone, freestones can be pulled apart with a twist, and clingstones cannot. Clingstones usually ripen first and tend to be smaller and harder. They are the kind most found in grocery stores, both fresh and canned.
"Clingstone peaches can be picked earlier and stay fresher longer. The clingstones sold in the grocery store were usually picked weeks before," Stribling Orchard's Miss Phillips says. "Freestones are ready to eat as soon as they are picked. If we shipped them, they would arrive as peach jam."
Freestone peaches can be so delicate and easily bruised that Ms. Phillips recommends bringing soda flats when you pick. "It keeps the fruit from bruising or ripening too quickly," she says. "One flat will hold up to seven pounds of peaches, and they stack."
At Stribling Orchard the most-asked-for peach is the Elberta, a yellow-fleshed freestone variety.
"Eighty-year-old grandmothers always request the Elbertas, since that's what they've always used to can, make jams and jellies, and freeze. The new varieties, though, are just as good," Ms. Phillips says.
Hartland Orchard grows Red Havens, Lorings and Red Skins, all yellow-fleshed freestone peaches. Hartland's Mr. Green believes that in a blind taste test, he would not be able to determine one from the other.
"They are all sweet and delicious," he says. "The only difference is when they are available."
Cherry Hill's most popular yellow-fleshed peach is the Red Haven. The Gallahans also grow the yellow-fleshed clingstone Garnet Beauty and several varieties of the yellow, freestone flaming fury.
Also a favorite, says Danny Gallahan, are the white peaches, available in August. Ninety-nine percent of white peaches are freestone, and Cherry Hill Farm grows only freestone white peaches, including White Lady, Sugar Lady, Sugar Giant, Snow King and Snow Giant.
Anyone who picks freestone peaches, though, should know how to keep them. Mrs. Little at Cherry Hill recalls a woman who picked a bushel of peaches and a week later came back complaining that they had not lasted long.
"She showed us the peaches. They were mush. She told us she had kept them in the plastic bag, sitting on top of her refrigerator."
Mrs. Little shakes her head. "They were fermenting in the bag. I told her these aren't like the kind you buy in the grocery store. Our peaches are for eating, freezing, or canning now."

Mrs. Little is pointing Athena Williams to the rows of ripe peaches, six back from the stand.
"When I was growing up, my grandfather owned a produce market in Washington, D.C.," Mrs. Williams says. "Maybe that's why I like to pick fresh produce." She laughs. "Either that or the fact that my favorite TV show growing up was 'Green Acres.' I could identify with Eddie Albert how he was from the city but wanted the farm life. I love that it takes me only 20 minutes to drive from the city to the farm."
Mrs. Williams' 10-year-old son, Stephen, and a friend climb the low branches of a peach tree, dropping the fruit into the basket. "I like to bring the kids when I come," she says. "I think it is important for them to see where food really comes from instead of just from the grocery store."
The man with the baby returns, dragging a full basket in the heat. On his shoulders, the baby holds out a portion of a half-eaten peach. Peach juice dribbles down his face and arms, forming rivulets down the man's head and face. He brushes the juice from his eyes.
Mrs. Little smiles. "Looks like you found the right area, after all," she says.

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