Mid-harvest at Freeman Farms
John Rieping/The Madera Tribune
Fresh peaches and nectarines sit for sale at Ranchos Fruit Stand. Freeman Farms began its own peach harvest in mid-July from its 40-acre orchard. They also harvested 20 acres of cherries and also has 17 acres of premium wine grapes.
Longtime Madera grower Loren Freeman of Freeman Farms began this season’s peach harvest in mid-July.
The fruit from the 40-acre orchard will be processed by Dole in Atwater and sold as frozen peaches. The large yellows to orange peaches are freestone, which falls off the pit with ease.
Earlier this summer, the Freemans harvested 20 acres of fresh market table cherries. According to the 2015 Madera County Crop Report, there are 280 acres of peaches and 590 acres of cherries grown in the county.
The Freeman family has farmed in this area since the 1920s. They will process its 90 acres of almonds and another 60 acres of walnut orchards later this summer.
A special 17 acres of premium wine grapes are planted in Laurie’s Vineyard, named for Loren’s wife, the former Laurie Sue Finn, a retired MUSD teacher.
This is a young vineyard grown on a three-wire trellis system. The fruit is hand thinned, leaf pulled and selectively pruned with the intention of producing the best juice grown from wine grapes grown in our Madera appellation.
“We do a lot of thinning and crop massaging,” Loren said. “We don’t get a huge crop. We are not growing for tonnage but for wine balance and quality. We’re producing premium wine grapes with a passion for our wine making partners.”
Incorporated in 1979, the Freeman family farm and its workforce tends their crops enriching the soil using commercial compost with very little chemical fertilizers. The natural weeds and grasses mowed between the rows of vines also feed the soil and harbor beneficial insects. Harvest is organized with the aid of labor contractors, he said.
“I farm my mom’s land and Laurie and I also have our own projects,” he said.
Laurie’ Vineyard is comprised of six white grape varietals Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Coda di Volpe, Sauvignon Musque, Malvisia Blanca and Barbera.
Wines previously made from Freeman Farms and Laurie’s Vineyards grapes are at local boutique wineries, including Fasi Estate, Moravia Wines, Cardella Winery, Westbrook Wine Farm, Marechal Vineyards and Idle Hour Winery. The Vineyard Restaurant’s house wine is a red blend from Laurie’s Vineyard and The Vineyard Restaurant’s wine grapes.
The family’s almonds are processed by Panoche Creek Packing, peaches are processed through Dole in Atwater and the cherries go through M&R Packing, out of Lodi, Loren said.
Loren and Laurie’s son is married to the former Summer Scott of Madera Ranchos. Friends since high school, they are raising her 4-year-old son Jace and they have an 18-month-old son Emmett. Robbie works in ag chemicals for Button Willow Warehouse.
On the Freeman Farms home, Laurie and Loren also raise a small number of specialty beef cattle. The herd spends the spring at their Oakhurst ranch in the foothills. There, the calves are tagged, vaccinated and become steers. When ready for market, the steers are brought to auction at Madera Producers Livestock Marketing Association.
They bought the land from Laurie’s cousin, George Wright. The acreage has been in her family with Laurie’s grandfather working the property 100 years ago, she said. Laurie’s late aunt Mattie Fry has a road bearing her name in Coarsegold.
Animals are a big part of the Freeman’s lives. They share their ranch with eight dogs, some of them lucky rescue pups abandoned on the road that found their way to the ranch, and too many barn cats to count. They support the spay and neuter movement by having feral cats fixed and released on their farmstead.
In addition to the ranch dogs, they raise show dogs. Romeo the Mastiff and Savvy the Boxer are multi-award winning dogs. Romeo was the number 4 Mastiff in the country in 2016 and Savvy was the number 2 boxer in the nation that year too. Savvy and Romeo received an invitation to the prestigious Westminster Dog Show.