Celebrate 70 Years of Farming and Fun with Schnepf Farms

Early Schnepf Farms, photo courtesy Schnepf Farms

Considered one of Arizona’s oldest operating family farms, Schnepf Farms continues to hit milestones as it celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. Purchased for $25 an acre in 1941 when Ray and Thora Schnepf moved to Queen Creek. The family farm has diversified into what it is today, operated by their son Mark, Carrie & their 4 children.

“My family has been farming since the late 1800’s, and it is very rewarding to be able to continue in agriculture,” says Mark Schnepf owner “Just in my 50 years, I have seen many successes and ideas that have failed” Schnepf says one of the funniest stories in1968 when his father planted 40 acres of pistachio trees. “He babied those trees for almost 20 years and not one nut was harvested.” Schnepf says in 1985, the trees were all pulled out and became a giant pile of firewood.  “The firewood pile lasted us through the 2009 Pumpkin  & Chili Party.”

Activities, festivals, barn dances and more are scheduled throughout the year. “This year we are going to reflect on the past as we celebrate the future. 70 years of Farming and Fun!” says Carrie Schnepf. “Not only are we creating events on the farm, but we are bringing a little of the farm to the city.” The farm will be selling an abundance of their vegetables at several farmers’ markets through the season.

The celebrations begin this weekend! Schnepf Farms is located 3 miles southeast of Ellsworth road in Queen Creek. For more information visit the website: www.schnepffarms.com or 480,.987.3100

UPCOMING 70TH ANNIVERSARY EVENTS AT SCHNEPF FARMS

Florida prince blossoms via Schnepf Farms

February PEACH BLOSSOM CELEBRATION.  the farm turns pink as 80 acres of Peach Trees start blooming. Each weekend, guests can enjoy walking trail, guided hay rides through thousands of trees and peach blossom cinnamon rolls in the bakery.

March 25th, 26th MEGA FARM MARKET FESTIVAL (new). 70 growers and ag enthusiasts are coming together to create the largest gathering of farm vendors. All agricultural products are in one location: fresh produce, cheeses, eggs, meat products, classes, cooking demonstrations, and more.

April: ANNUAL EASTER EGG-CITEMENT Easter egg hunts, Easter bunny, rides & fun!

May 14, 15, 21, 22 THE QUEEN CREEK PEACH FESTIVAL The sexy juicy fruit, is a season that many can’t wait for. The festival offers hay rides to the orchards, famous peachy pancake breakfast, pie eating contests, chef demonstrations.

June U-PICK EXTRAVAGANZA! (new) Reflecting on the past…”We have gone back and focused on our garden planting vegetables that made us who we are,” says Mark Schnepf  “visitors will be able to enjoy our organic garden full of many of your favorite but we have also planted potatoes & sweet onions to dig your own and sweet corn. The Orchards will be full of Apples.” Says Schnepf.

70 Years of Schnepf Farms Farm Facts

1.      1941–640 acres of mostly desert was purchased by Mark’s grandfather, Jack Schnepf, for $25.00 per acre.  Mark’s father and mother, Ray and Thora Schnepf, were married in December and spent their honeymoon night in a little one room shack.

2.      1942–Ray and Thora had to share the one-room shack on the farm with a farmhand so Ray found a house he could buy and move onto the farm.  The house was a 4 room clapboard house owned by Southern Pacific Railroad and built about 1900.  Ray purchased the house in and rolled it one mile over old telephone poles, pulled by a tractor to its new location.  That same house  is now the farm museum.

3.      1942–Cotton was the first crop grown and harvested on the farm.

4.      1942-1944 Ray was paid $5.00 a week to run the farm by his father Jack.  Thora worked at Williams Air Force Base making $25.00 per week.

5.      1945—Ray learned to fly, purchased his first airplane and built a private runway on the farm.

6.      1946—Ray invented a machine to make aluminum irrigation pipes to replace the heavy rubber pipes that they used.

7.      1947– Queen Creek’s first fireworks display started at Schnepf Farms when Ray and some of his brothers flew to New Mexico to buy aerial fireworks and shot them off at the farm for everyone’s enjoyment.

8.      1948– Potatoes were first grown on the farm.  These were special varieties of potatoes used for potato chips.

9.      1949—Queen Creek’s first “real” swimming pool was built at Schnepf Farms.  It was fed by a hot water pump so the pool water could be as warm as 100 degrees.

10.   1950—Other members of the family are now married and start living and working on the farm.

11.    1951—The farm is flooded by the rain swollen Queen Creek Wash.  Some farm equipment is lost in the flood.

12.   1952—New cotton picking machines are purchased.

13.   1953—More water wells are drilled on the farm.  The deepest well drilled at Schnepf Farms is 2000 ft deep…the water comes out of the ground at about 98 degrees.

14.   1954—More buildings are built on the farm.

15.   1955—Ray and Jack divide the original farm in half.  Each of  them buys more adjacent farmland.

16.   1956—7 members of the Schnepf Family now have pilot licenses including 3 of the Schnepf women and there are 4 airplanes in the family.

17.   1957—The Schnepf family is all active in the Arizona Flying Farmer organization.

18.   1958—Ray and Thora built a new home on the farm which is now the “The Farmhouse at Schnepf Farms” wedding and reception center.

19.   1959—Ray builds a new 3000’ airplane landing strip on the farm. Mark is born .

20.   1960—Schnepf Farms adds a new potato shed and Cold Storage Building.

21.   1961—Ray invents new types of potato handling equipment to mechanize and streamline the process.  Some of this equipment helped revolutionize the potato industry.

22.   1962—Ray builds a railroad spur on the farm so produce could be transported by train.  He names the spur the R&T Short Line and creates the motto: “the R&T Short Line may not be the longest railroad…but it’s just as wide.”

23.   1963–More farmland is purchased for $600.00 an acre.

24.   1964–Even more farmland is purchased.

25.   1965–Peaches and Nectarines are first planted on the farm.

26.   1966–Lettuce becomes an important crop for the farm.

27.   1967–A new office building is constructed and is still the main office building today.

28.   1968–Pistachio  trees are first planted on the farm (see 1985)

29.   1969–The first Robusta Palms are planted for future sale to landscapers and nurseries.

30.   1970–Ray is hired to be a consultant on a large agricultural project in the Middle East.

31.   1971–Geothermal activity was explored in Queen Creek for power generation including two farms owned the Schnepfs.

32.   1972–The farm develops a plant nursery division.  The peach, nectarine and apricot orchards are opened to the public for picking.

33.   1973–The first grape vinyards were planted on the farm.  Table grapes were grown at Schnepf Farms until 1987.

34.   1974–Duram wheat is first grown on the farm.  This is hard, high quality wheat used to make pasta.  Schnepf Farms is now 5000 acres made up of owned and leased land.

35.   1975–Schnepf Farms become the main shipping point for Duram wheat in the East Valley using the R&T Short Line.

36.   1976–JoJoba Beans are planted to produce JoJoba oil.  All of the plants freeze 2 years later and the project is abandoned.

37.   1977–The farm starts a sand and gravel operation that is open for 10 years.

38.   1978–The grape vinyards are opened to the public for picking.

39.   1979–The farm begins to downsize.

40.   1980–A roadside stand is constructed to sell produce direct to the public. That building is the Country Store and Bakery today.

41.   1981–Queen Palms are planted for future sale.

42.   1982–The farm gets into the citrus business by leasing citrus orchards and building packing operation. Citrus is shipped by boat to Asia. Apricots are sold and flown to Europe.

43.   1983–Mark skips law school to start full time work at the farm.

44.   1984–Schnepf Farms hosts a huge party called Springtime Bash.  Ray sells some of his farmland to continue downsizing.

45.   1985–The Schnepf’s give up trying to grow Pistachio Nuts, tear out all of the trees and make a giant pile of firewood.

46.   1986–Mark starts the first farm festival called 4-H day at the farm and was a success with a couple of hundred of people attending.

47.   1987–CAP water is first used on the farm.

48.   1988 –After 47 years cotton is grown for the last time on the farm.

49.   1989–Queen Creek is incorporated and Mark becomes the Towns first Mayor.

50.   1990–The Potato Festival is started at the farm.

51.   1991–Mark marries TV newscaster Carrie Biggs.

52.   1992–Mark and Ray grow chipping potatoes for the last time.

53.   1993–Mark and Ray develop 200 acres of the farm into an outdoor festival venue.

54.   1994–Schnepf Farms hosts Country Thunder USA a four day country music festival for the first time.  The Festival was held on the farm for 9 years.

55.   1994–Connor Schnepf is born and Carrie starts selling home made preserves at the roadside stand

56.   1995–Grayson Schnepf is born.  3rd year of the Potato Festival, thousands turn out to watch the first tug of war over a mashed potato pit.

57.   1996–lil’ farmers play yard is created. First year of the Queen Creek Peach Festival. Thousands attend, Carrie’s mother tries to sample peach preserves and peach salsa from 4 cases of product. No extra product was available to purchase.  Peach trees were picked clean in 1 ½ hours.

58.   1997–McCall is born. Narrow guage train is purchased with one mile of track laid through the orchards.  Educational field trips are started, thousands of school converge on the farm to learn where their vegetables come from.

59.   1998–Last year for the Queen Creek Potato Festival and  first year of the Pumpkin & Chili Party. This 2 night event began using a back yard bbq to serve up a chili dinner, pumpkin patch, bluegrass music, bon fires and marshmallow roasting.

60.   1999–Hayden Schnepf is born. More peach orchards are planted and 4 20’ outdoor grills. The Pumpkin & Chili Party expanded to 2 weekends and 4 nights. 18thousand people in attendance. The Easter Egg-Citement is started. 2nd Narrow gauge train is purchased.

61.   2000–Mark ends his political career to focus more on family and farm, but the family travels the State in an RV, named the Family Farm Express. The Schnepf’s educate voters about the fear of Proposition 202. 12’ x 12’ bakery added to farm stand.  Hillbilly Bob’s Pig Races added to Pumpkin & Chili Party. Old Cotton Gin water tower on the corner of Ellsworth and Cloud was moved to the farm. Old Neely Farm building moved to farm and turned into a gift shop. Schnepf’s donate the use of farm for the Town’s 4th of July fireworks.

62.   2001–Farm begins using renewable energy as it focuses on  the environment.  Bakery doubled in size and more peach trees are planted. Breakfast with Santa begins. Honeybee ride is purchased and A  1912 Parker Carousel. The entire ride was disassembled from a 2nd story loft of a barn in Wisconsin.

63.    2002–Farm is powered using 100% EarthWise Energy, making it the first business in the State and first farm in the Country. Barn built by Mark’s Grandfather moved piece by piece to house petting zoo. UPICK Garden expands. More peach orchards are planted, making Schnepf Farms the largest organic peach grower in the state.

64.   2003–100 year old Schnepf Farm house moved 1 mile to the farm. It becomes a gift shop. Pumpkin & Chili Party unveils its first “Celebrity Maze” featuring Larry King.

65.   2004–More peach trees are planted and the Peach Festival continues to grow. The First Roller coaster is purchased. Farm Matriarch, Thora and Carrie’s father both pass away.

66.   2005–Flying Farmer ride is unveiled. A plane ride featuring the names of local members of the Flying Farmers; the Sossamon’s, Barney’s, Knox and Schnepf’s. Schnepf Family Museum is opened in 100 year old original farmhouse.

67.   2006–First ever 100% crop failure on the farm. 60 acres of peaches, apricots, plums and apples froze after a hard freeze on the first weekend of March.  The Peach Festival became the “Peachless” peach Festival, another big loss. 250-thousand dollar crop loss this year.  Small buildings relocated to farm for potential shops. Swingin Lady Bugs ride is purchased. Luis Gonzales visits farm as Celebrity maze is unveiled. First year of London’s Run.

68.   2007–Schnepf Family moved off farm as farmhouse is turned into Reception Center. Over 100 bon fires are lit in peach orchards and geo thermal well water as a way of protecting peach trees from freeze. Office from the Hasting Farm (across the street) is moved to property. Country Store closes and Fresh from the Farm Restaurant opens. First Dinner down the orchard featuring guest chef Vincent Guierhault. Economy threatens the farm. Farm begins composting for garden. Steve Nash visits farm as part of Celebrity Corn Maze.

69.   2008–1st year for Edgefest as it moves from Tempe. 17 thousand in attendance. Reception Center Opens. Wine bar & jazz nights open. Hasting House becomes Country Store during the Farm Festivals. Schnepf’s 2nd roller coaster is purchased and begins restoration. 1952 restored Miler Roller coaster premiers during Pumpkin & Chili party. Mohammad Ali visits farm as part of Celebrity Corn Maze.

70.   2009–Farm survives worst year in economic history. Schnepf Farms gains zoning to hold 12 concerts a year on the farm over neighbor’s objections. Fresh from the Farm Restaurant Closes and Country Store re-opens with profitable weekends throughout the season.

71.   2010–Farm rebounds with a great year starting with the biggest peach crop in its history. Farm continues to diversify announcing plans for Queen Creek’s first Cemetery called “San Tan Memorial Gardens at Schnepf Farms.” Schnepf’s go back to the basics.

72.   2011– Anniversary celebrations begin…..

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3 Responses to Celebrate 70 Years of Farming and Fun with Schnepf Farms

  1. Pingback: The Pressure is On to Feed a Growing World | Fill Your Plate Blog

  2. Stephan Matlack says:

    Mark and Carrie do so much for our rapidly shrinking (overtaken) agricultral community. I have been fortunate enough to see some of the changes to the farm in the last 12 years I have lived in the Gilbert/Higley/Queen Creek area. Most for the better,,, and a few not as well. The Urban overtake, and economic downfall have left much of our residents in a not so well financial status. Please support your local farmers/dairy farms, and enjoy organic and “you pick” products from your own neighbors that have dedicated their entire generation, as well as many generations before, to preserve. Spend your money where you live. And, enjoy what’s left of what the SouthEast Valley of Phoenix. Love this place, and many of the other local family owned and operated dairies, farms, and generally weekly (at least) farmer’s markets. Teach your children that their food dosen’t come from a “grocery store”; it comes from people who really care.

    • fillyourplate says:

      Thank you for your comment Stephan! Yes, the Schnepf’s have had a significant impact on our community and hope they continue to do so for many years to come!

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