STRATFORD — Driving south into Garvin County down U.S. 177 is the sight of 900 acres of peach orchards. Tree after tree of the famously sweet peaches are being picked and prepared for Saturday's 37th annual Stratford Peach Festival at Stratford City Park.
But what makes Stratford peaches stand apart from the rest? Tim Blackburn, owner of Peach Tree Farms, has the simple answer.
“The heat makes them sweet,” Blackburn said. The combination of Stratford's sandy soil and Oklahoma's naturally hot weather makes for a perfect peach.
“Years when it rains a lot they aren't quite as sweet,” he said. Blackburn has been in the peach business since 1989, providing Stratford with peaches, produce and even homemade peach ice cream shakes.
Blackburn's 2013 peach crop is about the same as last year, but really late. He said he'll be picking peaches until mid-September. There is a waiting list for people wanting Blackburn's peaches.
“We were fortunate and blessed this year. We had just a little bit of hail,” he said. “We made it through the freezes pretty good, but we've had trouble with grasshoppers.”
Rene and Bill Scott, owners of Sonrise Peach Farm, are in their second year of farming peaches and other produce.
“We went from cattle farming to peach farming,” Rene Scott said. Sonrise's peach crop is down this year due to the freezing and hail, forcing them to limit the amount of peaches sold to customers.
They are holding on to as many Stratford peaches as they can to be ready for the festival.
The Scotts aren't the only ones with fewer peaches this year. Craig Pullen's 40-acre orchard is also down on peach count.
“I'm thankful to have any peaches,” Pullen said, walking through the rows of peach trees with his dog, Sandy. Last year Pullen had more peaches than he knew what to do with.
This year most of his peaches are “cosmetically challenged,” meaning they either have hail damage or some other imperfection. He sells these “number two” peaches at about half price.
They taste just as good, but they just don't look quite as nice Pullen said.
Oklahoma doesn't produce a significant amount peaches, although in Stratford, Porter and Harrah are known locally for their crops.
The festivities Saturday will feature activities throughout the day, including a peach cookoff, a car and bike show, a rodeo, a singing contest and a pageant.
“We're expecting a good turnout because of the weather,” said Crystal McNew, a chamber of commerce board member. Officials expect about 5,000 visitors.
McNew, 30, said there will be much more than peaches at the festival. Vendors will be selling all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables, arts, crafts, clothing and woodwork. Plus helicopter rides will give a bird's-eye view of the festival.