Have you ever wondered how cherries are harvested? Now, you can feel the ground shake beneath your feet as cherries are shaken from the tree, because Cherry Hill Farms, a family run orchard in Caldwell, is opening their private orchard this month and inviting you to join them for their tart cherry harvest!
From July 8-11, 2020 you can discover first hand how Montmorency cherries are harvested and get a behind the scenes tour of how a commercial fruit orchard operates. You'll enjoy a scenic wagon ride tour of the orchards and will observe the process of loading and unloading the fruit, pick your own fresh fruit to take home with you, learn more about the different types of fruit that can be grown in Caldwell, Idaho, and enjoy games, taking pictures in the orchards, and of course, snacks for the whole family!
Who: This unique experience can be enjoyed by everyone. Bring your family, a date, or a group of friends. Make it a 'staycation' by visiting a tasting room or tow on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail and eating dinner at one of Caldwell's farm to fork restaurants.
When: Wednesday, July 8, and Friday July 10 - 5-9PM. Saturday, July 11, 10AM - 2PM. Tours depart every 15 minutes and reservations are NOT required. ?
Where: On the cormer of Chicken Dinner Road & Apricot Road (The nearest address for your GPS is 15228 Chicken Dinner Rd, Caldwell, ID 83607)
Cost: $7.00 per person or $5.00 per person in groups of 5 or larger.
Additional Details: Due to COVID-19 we encourage you to take precautions such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.
Jim Thomssen, Caldwell Insider and Idaho Wine Ambassador, was able to get a preview tour of the Cherry Hill Farms expirence! Read on below to learn more about his experience and gain a little more knowledge about the history of farming in Caldwell, Idaho.
I don’t know about you but it seems like a lot of folks are looking for local options for fun things to do. Vacations to exotic destinations are paused for the time being so we’ve all been looking for an adventure close to home. Luckily, Caldwell's agricultural region, know by the locals as the Sunnyslope is just a short 30-minute drive from downtown Boise and Eastern Oregon.
Now, while the Sunnyslope is currently known for its vineyards and wine tasting rooms, the area's roots are in fruit production. At one time there was a trolley line from Caldwell into Boise to deliver the best fruit in Idaho directly to the Capital city! Imagine that – Light Rail solutions as early as 1907!
Many of the orchards still remain in Caldwell and are operated by many of the same families that started them in the 1800s. However, while they are beautiful when the trees bloom and fruit starts to grow, the public is unable to visit them because the farmers are not set up for visitors on a day to day basis.
So, I was incredibly excited when I heard Cherry Hill Farms was 'opening the barn doors' and holding tours this year. Getting outdoors was the perfect opportunity for me to have a 'staycation' and safely enjoy some company - there is plenty of room for social distancing among the acres and acres of fruit trees!
As one of the top tart cherry producers in Idaho and Utah, the Rowley family has been putting food on our tables for over 5 generations. A few years ago they purchased Cherry Hill Farms from the Williamson family, who pivoted their efforts into the grape and wine business - Williamson Orchards & Vineyards is located at the end of Apricot Road and is a great stop before or after your tour! While the Williamsons kept some of their sweet cherry crop and do a great U-Pick cherry event, Cherry Hill Farms experience is much different. They grow TART cherries. While you might not enjoy the sour taste right from the tree, the tart fruit is perfect to make cherry pies and dried cherries. Cherry pie is always a favorite food especially in July when fresh cherries are ripe.
The tours leave from the welcome station every 15 minutes and take you out through the orchards in a tractor powered open-air wagon. Don’t worry if you miss a wagon, another will be by soon. While you wait you can play some cherry corn hole in the orchard with bean bags full of dried cherry pits!
Once you are on the wagon you’ll get to see apple, peach, apricot, and cherry trees as you are pulled around the farm. Make sure to bring your cameras, you'll see sweeping views of the Owhyee Mountains and Lake Lowell. The wagon stopped a few times and the farmers explained how the orchards are maintained, why they plant certain types of crops on different areas of the farm and gave us opportunities to ask any questions we had.
One of the most interesting stops on the farm was at the apple trees. The trunks were big, but the branches were tiny! This peculiar looking tree isn't something you'd find growing naturally - it's actually 'man-made'. You see, the Rowleys were growing red delicious apples in this orchard for several years before the apple variety became less popular. So, what happens if your apple variety falls out of favor? Trees take years to grow so it’s not easy to replant and wait for the next new hybrid to grow in. Luckily, the Rowley’s’ know how to graft, or transplant a different kind of apple branch onto the existing tree root, so when the demand for Red Delicious apples started to falter they were able to cut some trees off about 2 feet off the ground and create Honeycrisp trees. In 2-3 years these hybrids developed at the University of Minnesota will be ready to harvest. They grafted trees do look a bit strange and you will ride right through them on the tour!
After a tour of the orchard, it's time for the grand finale - cherries being harvested! You'll feel the ground shake beneath your feet when a really cool machine shakes the cherry trees and gathers the fruit. Then the machine dumps the cherries in a bin full of water for a soft landing and trip to the processing plant. Did you know cherries don’t float? Neither did I – I figured we could bob for little tiny apples, but alas!
The Rowley’s start harvesting cherries from their trees after six to seven years of time in the ground. After seeing the harvester shaking the fruit free it’s easy to see why the productive life of a commercial cherry tree is about 20 years. The apple trees for instance can last 25-30 years or longer.
Of course, the best part of any tour is at the end when you get to sample the products! Cherry Hill Farms sells most of its fruit commercially but has added additional consumer products and experiences to expand. They currently make dried cherries, chocolate covered dried cherries, and tart cherry juice. The dried tart cherries look like Craisens but taste like a cherry pie. I’d also recommend you look up the recipe for Cherry bars here and try it with some of their fresh cherries or some cherry pie filling! Oh Yum! If you need other kinds of fruit I’d recommend a quick stop at Lakeview Fruit on Highway 55. They just opened this week and have a lot for farm-fresh fruit and vegetables available for you to add to your market basket!
The take away here is that there are great new things to try and experience right in our own back yard. While you can’t hop a trolley and visit the ‘slope anymore it’s not a long drive. Interestingly enough you’ll cross the Sunnyslope Wine Trail as you make your way out to tour the Cherry Hill Farms property. Maybe the kids won’t mind if you swing by your favorite winery and pick up a few bottles of another local fruit-based product to bring home for your summer celebration.
Cheers to Locally Grown Fruit & Wine!
By Jim Thomssen, The Idaho Wine Ambassador