The rolling hills and verdant, green trees, heavy-hung with bright, ripe fruit, put one in mind of the Garden of Eden.
“It’s beautiful, peaceful,” said Amanda Stark, who, along with her husband, Wylie, owns the Cherry Creek Orchard in Pontotoc.
It’s peach season for the Flavor-Rich, yellow peaches, and the fragrant fruit was practically dripping from the trees. Customers, almost as if they could smell the sweetness in the air, were flocking in.
“The peaches, the prices, and the people,” said Roy Holland, who brought his dear friend, and cancer survivor, Dorothy Montgomery, to get a couple of flats of succulent peaches.
On the eastern end of the orchard, seasoned-picker Primitivo Vargas and his crew were winding down a morning pick. Buckets full of ripe peaches were stacked together.
“The ones on the hills are almost ripe,” said Vargas, pointing northward, tipping back his cowboy hat and dabbing his forehead with a bandana. “We watch them carefully, to see when is the correct time,” Vargas said.
On the western side of the orchard, tomatoes were growing, along with purple-hull peas, speckled butter-beans, and Thorogreen lima beans. Bees buzzed busily around a row of vertical, wooden hives, making the honey the Starks sell.
“We’re taking orders for peas and beans, by text or phone-call,” said Amanda Stark, as she steered the pickup slowly over the rumpled road between the rows of healthy trees.
Stark and her husband bought the orchard in 2010, but the roots of the business go back to 1980, when George Adrian planted it.
“A 60-acre orchard is a year-round business,” said Stark, explaining that she and the staff only get a breather in early October. That’s before the apple-picking begins.
“We invite folks to come in and enjoy the fall scenery and pick their own apples,” said Stark.
Cultivating an orchard is also risky.
“We’re occasionally reminded that Mother Nature is in charge, not us,” said long-time employee Kim Foreman, who helped the Starks limp through last year, when a late frost took all but 15 percent of the crop. Earlier this spring, the Starks and their staff built giant bonfires and set out barrels aflame with wood to stave-off the frost. It worked, and they’re expecting a record crop.
Diversifying crops helps the orchard thrive.
“We’ll have tomatoes until if frosts,” said Stark. Better Boy, Bella Rosa, and Big Beef are among the brands. Plums, nectarines, berries--black and blue—figs, mucadines, and watermelons round-out yield of the land.
The orchard will host the Flamin’ Fury Trail Run on July 13, with proceeds benefitting the running programs at Pontotoc High School. The Peach Festival, in nearby Ecru, is June 15.
“We’ll provide peaches for ice-cream, cobbler, and all the festivities,” said Stark.
Back in the tin building, where they sell the peaches, Myra Gallegos and Nikte Mares were picking out the prettiest of the flats, as were Dennis and Debbie Harrison.
“Sweet, fresh, good,” said Debbie, as Dennis hoisted the box of peaches onto the counter.
As the Harrisons left, Amanda Stark and Kim Foreman had a quiet moment.
“I love it when kids come in, and, if their parents allow, we give them a peach,” Stark said.
“I love working with nature, not being cooped up, and seeing families come in and really enjoy the earth, and natural things,” said Foreman.
“When kids get a peach, or a taste of honey, and they smile and love it, it really makes it all worth it,” Stark said. “We love doing this, and we’re grateful for our customers, and we hope to keep growing for a long time.”
To order purple-hull peas, or butter-beans, text or call (662) 760-0672, or call (662) 489-7783. Cherry Creek Orchard is located at 4660 MS 345 (Cherry Creek Road).