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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

Fresh peaches attract motorists on Highway B

Monday, July 24, 2006

(Photo)
Mike Leible picks a peach from one of the 800 trees on his eight-acre orchard in Dogwood
(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
DOGWOOD -- Anyone who travels Highway B on a daily basis knows about Mike Leible's peach stand that sits roadside between East Prairie and Bertrand.

And as Leible tells it, there's nothing like tasting a peach picked right from the tree.

"Most of the people that live around here are country-oriented and have had the opportunity to eat home-grown tomatoes and tomatoes from grocery stores. There's no comparison between the two, and it's the same with a peach," Leible said.

The transportation time from an orchard to a retailer can take away precious time in the sun for the fruit.

"Sunlight is what makes the peach sweet, and obviously peaches bought in stores can't hang on a tree as long as they do in my backyard," Leible said.

In order to be sold in stores, peaches must first be picked out of a field, stored in containers, transported and shipped thousands of miles to a grocery stores. There, peaches are put into a cooler and shelved, Leible said.

"Those peaches have to be picked pretty green and picked before they can absorb all of the flavors and sweeteners," Leible said. "Here, all the road time is left on the tree.

"I can leave them on the tree longer and wait until they're ready to eat," Leible continued. "Three hundred yards -- that's as far as my peach has to travel."

Located off exit four from Interstate 57 North in Mississippi County, the roadside stand sits in front of Leible's 800 peach trees known as Dogwood Orchard.

When Leible purchased his home in 2002, he also acquired the eight-acre orchard. The home's previous owner planted the orchard in 2001, and by 2003, Leible was ready to sell peaches. Leible said he decided to take on the orchard so he sought advice from local agriculture experts and even took educational courses to learn about the peach industry.

Leible, who owns the orchard with Angel Gilchrist, hand picks the peaches at sunrise every morning. He estimated he picks about four bushel per tree.

"I'm out there every day -- and I pick them every morning. If I pick them in the afternoon, they don't hold up as well," Leible said.

Peaches, which have fared well this year, are in season typically from mid-

June through August -- about 10 weeks, Leible said.

Leible's orchard contains 17 varieties of peaches -- three of which are white peach varieties -- and four varieties of nectarines.

Leible compared the difference between white peaches and regular peaches to that of yellow-meat and red-meat watermelons.

"It (the white) has its own unique taste. I guess the white peach has a smoother taste and softer texture," Leible said.

Residents from Charleston, Bertrand, East Prairie and Sikeston residents frequent the stand, and with the orchard located near the interstate, there's potential for out-of-state visitors, too.

"It varies but it's usually steady throughout the day," said Justin Warren, who mans the stand throughout the day, about business. "We get a lot of regulars."

Peaches are sold in half-peck containers. Once fresh peaches are purchased, consumers should take appropriate measures to ensure they preserve their peaches the best they can, Leible said.

First they have to decide if they want firm or soft peaches. For those who like firm peaches, they can put them in the refrigerator in sealed plastic bags, Leible said.

"If you want to soften them up, leave them on the kitchen counter in the house. When they get to the softness you want, put them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator," Leible said.

It's important not to put the bare fruit in the refrigerator because refrigerators take moisture out of the air, and if peaches aren't in an airtight container, they will shrivel up quickly, Leible said.

Dogwood Orchard's stand is open rain or shine, hot or not from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the week.

Leible encouraged anyone who's never tasted a tree-ripened peach to do so before season's end.

"They've got an opportunity right in their backyard to have the freshest peaches around," Leible said. "A short drive will be well worth it."