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Fred Vanzant planted his first trees in Lowell in 1949, and as they say, the rest is history. Today, Vanzant’s Fruit Farm consists of 300 acres of peach and apple orchards, concord grapevines, Bermuda hay grass and a popular, friendly scarecrow-filled pumpkin patch.
When homestead farms were established in the mid-1800s, orchard fruits became part of the Northwest Arkansas agriculture landscape. Cool autumn nights followed by warm summer days help the trees produce their best fruit. The Arkansas Black apple was first grown in Benton County in 1870. So, as the Vanzant’s planted their first trees, they connected their story to generations of farming in their own family and the regional landscape.
In 1901, the Apple Blossom became the official state flower. At the time, Benton and Washington counties were the largest producers of apples in the country. Like today’s apple production in Michigan and the Northeastern states, nearly 400 varieties were grown over 80,000 acres in the Northwest Arkansas region.
Photo provided by Vanzant’s Family Farm.
While the Vanzant’s farm is most widely known for their summer peaches, they carry a similar reputation for their apples in the fall, with a concord grape harvest nestled between the two seasons.
At age 96, Fred Vanzant still opens and closes the market daily, driving his side by side to check the fields multiple times a day. Mr. Fred’s dedication to farming in Northwest Arkansas is a testament to the area of agriculture. As a young boy, he experienced the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression and endured the drought of 1936, where the White River in his backyard completely dried up. Then, at age 17, straight out of high school, he served 28 months in the Pacific during WWII and came home to connect with a little lady he had been writing letters to during the war. While he didn’t know it at the time, her family farm was just miles down the road from his current homestead, and when the land became available, they snagged 80 acres on what is now Hwy 264.
As a young boy, Mr. Fred attended the one-room schoolhouse in Sonora and later took a bus to attend Huntsville High School. During his high school days, he worked in a peach orchard up on the mountain between the two cities, and deep down in his heart, he always knew he wanted to own an orchard.
But establishing an orchard takes time. As Vanzant will tell you, you can’t put a seed in the ground and have fruit the following season. For peaches, it took four seasons to get any crop and eight for harvesting apples. So, Fred sold carpet for 14 years to provide for his family and build his dream. Veteran, carpet salesman and fruit farmer – it’s quite a reputation, and many seek him out for advice. “There are only so many things you can learn in a book. Sometimes, you have to put trees in the ground and learn what happens.”
In 1977, the farm produced a trailer of apples a day, with shipments sent to North Dakota and the West Coast. Mrs. Vanzant started selling fruit in their front yard that wasn’t sent to fulfill distributor contracts. Not many people could get local apples, and they loved buying from the local farmer, still do.
Photo provided by Vanzant Fruit Farms.
The farm added 80 acres of concord grapes. A few years later, they contracted with Welch’s and other national distributors. Vanzant served on the Welch’s board for 14 years and traveled with that position, and learned more about fruit farming around the country. This opportunity helped him diversify his crop production, and as he knew changes were coming in apple production, he pulled trees and expanded the peach orchard.
Today, the farm has about 6,000 peach trees producing 22 varieties of peaches from June into late August. The varieties allow him to spread production from early producers to the late summer “cling-free” seed options. Customers travel weekly from Missouri, Oklahoma, and across Arkansas to fill their peach fix. The 2021 winter freeze was hard for Arkansas farmers, knocking out most of the crop of famed peaches. However, Vanzant’s produce partners and relationships allowed him to keep offering peaches through the market all summer long.
Mrs. Vanzant moved her front yard market to an official site along Highway 264. The new location kept everything protected from rainy days and allowed the farm to expand its selection of accouterments. The on-site market displays up to 17 varieties of apples, gourds, dried peas and pumpkins in the fall. Twenty-two flavors of peaches and tomatoes, sweet corn, blueberries, and watermelons round out the summer months. The farm harvests and delivers daily, including raindrops if that’s the weather.
In addition to the fresh produce, the market is filled year-round with jams, jellies, pickles, sauces and honey. The Vanzant’s share some of their favorite recipes from Grandma Mabel’s table through a blog on their website. Fred partners on the farm now with his son Steve, who is carrying on the daily operations and expanding production with a diversified product selection that they can bring to their customers each day from June 20 through Christmas Eve.
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