We are now in the heart of peach season, and are picking and packing in the greatest abundance. On a typical day, our farm is harvesting and packing approximately 1500 bushels, in other words 75,000 lbs of peaches. That's a lot of peaches! Our farm crew sets out into the peach orchard at 6 o'clock in the morning to start the day's harvest. Each peach is hand-picked from the tree and put in bins on trailers. These trailers transport the peaches back to Eckert's so they may be put through the packing line.
Once a peach is plucked from the tree, in instantely begins to soften. In order to delay this process, peaches must be cooled down. For instance, on an average summer day, the temperature of a peach is between 90 and 95 degrees when first picked from the tree. This is referred to as "field heat." It is at these high temperatures that the peaches begin to soften and risk becoming mealy in texture. Due to this breakdown risk, it is our policy that our peaches are never in transit from the field to the packing line for anymore than 45 minutes to an hour.
The first step in the peach packing line is the hydrocooler. The hydrocooler pours cold water (36 degrees Fahrenheit) over the peaches, which drops the temperature of each peach by about 20 degrees. At these cooler temperatures, the fruit will remain firmer, enabling them to better withstand the packing process.
Once the peaches are cooled, each piece of fruit, individually, is weighed and graded by hand. Peach size varies anywhere to very small, what we refer to as Checks, all the way to Extra Fancy, our largest, prize-winning peaches. There are four sizes in between Checks and Extra Fancy, totaling six weights of peaches. Grading peaches is much less complex. There is #1 fruit, which is any fruit free of blemishes, bruises, mold and decay. The other group is made up of ripes and seconds; fruit that is too ripe (needs to be used immediately) or damaged fruit. Forty percent of peaches that move through the packing line will be graded as seconds. Of those, half will be sold for a discounted price, while the other half of the peaches will be thrown out on the ground of the peach orchard to serve as a natural fertilizer for future peach crops. None of the peaches we pick are ever just thrown in a dumpster!
After our peaches are hand-picked, hand-graded, hand-weighed and hand-packed, they are then taken into our Country Store where they are available for purchase. While it is a complex and tedious process, we strive to move our peaches through the packing line as quickly and as
efficiently as possible. Since the freshest fruit comes directly from its source, it is our policy that peaches bought in our store were hanging on the tree less than two hours before you bought it!