By Justin Walker
Agriculture is often a family affair. Farms and ranches are passed from generation to generation, just like the passion for growing quality livestock and crops.
For the Eckhardt family’s peach orchards in Fredericksburg, that holds true.
Dianne Eckhardt’s family has been growing peaches in Gillespie County for 82 years. Her grandfather started growing crops in the area after returning from the war in the 1920s and helped open a co-op to sell peaches to locals.
“Once peaches were introduced to the area in the ’20s, we’ve kept going ever since then,” she said. “We realize we’ve been given a gift with this good soil and this good climate.”
Eckhardt was born and raised in Fredericksburg and, after moving away for college and a career, returned in 2007 to work in the family business with her sister.
“We are fifth-generation Fredericksburg natives, but we are third-generation peach growers,” she said.
Eckhardt’s family grows 20 varieties of peaches, including Red Globe, Harvester and Loring. Harvest typically begins in the first half of May and runs into August.
The industry has changed over the years, Eckhardt said. When her father was young, more fruit was grown for distribution across Texas and the U.S. But Eckhardt and her family now sell the majority of their peaches closer to home.
“Most of our fruit stays here in the county,” she said.
Roughly 90 percent of their peaches are sold for retail in Gillespie County. Most of the sales occur at their produce stand, Donald Eckhardt Orchards, while some local shops and farmers markets also sell the fruit. It’s a shift from the wholesale-focused past, but consumers reap the benefits of fresher, riper fruit, Eckhardt said.
Eckhardt noted 2018 has been a great year for peach growers in the Hill Country, despite drought conditions. A nice winter built up good subsoil moisture, which resulted in an abundant peach crop this season.
The lack of rain has impacted the size of the fruit, Eckhardt said. Recent rains have helped, but peaches won’t reflect that for four to five days after the rain.
“You may not have as much size on your fruit, but it will make up for it with flavor,” she said. “As long as we have plenty of sunshine and heat, the sugar content goes way up. The flavor is just really good on those peaches.”
Eckhardt said more rains are needed now for next year’s crop.
Regardless of the industry changes or weather conditions, Eckhardt said she and her family will continue to grow tasty peaches.
And the passion for peaches has already been passed to the next generation, and her niece and nephews enjoy picking fruit in the mornings and helping out at the stand.
Eckhardt can see her family’s love come across in the quality of the crop.
“The quality is as good as it was 40 to 50 years ago,” she said. “We continue to have a good peach to give to folks.”