By Don Heimburger
Many years ago, wanting to impress my new bride with my camping skills, I suggested we take an overnight trip to Michigan and pitch our new green canvas tent on the white-sand beach. All went well until about 3 a.m., when a storm came up and the tent collapsed on top of us. We spent the rest of the night in our car and hadn't camped since.
But then we discovered "glamping" at the Cozy Peach near Mesa, Arizona, with Carrie and Mark Schnepf on their quiet 300-acre organic peach farm. Guests have a choice of two Silver Streaks, two Spartans, one Caravan and four slick Airstreams, including the larger 1948 trailer they call the "Mansion," which we chose.
This 36-foot-long-by-7-foot-wide moveable space (the wheels are still attached), complete with kitchen, bathroom and shower, small living room, queen bed and bunkbed, was our home for the night. A colorful awning over the front door allowed us to sit outside and sip a glass of wine in the evening.
The farm is also part of Mesa's Fresh Foodie Trail. In 1941, Mark's grandparents purchased a section of sandy desert in the middle of nowhere, and the peach farm has since appreciably expanded its attractions.
The original desert "plot" grew to about 5,000 acres at one time and included thousands of peach trees and acres of alfalfa, wheat, cotton and, later, chip potatoes. Then Mark and his father turned a large portion of the acreage into a festival area, and a country music festival was held on the property for nine years.
"We continued the vision by diversifying and adding farm festivals, a bakery, amusement rides (including a 16-inch-gauge miniature diesel train that runs more than a mile around the property), a cafe, country store, petting zoo and three wedding venues," Mark said.
Also on offer are the U-Pick vegetable garden, hayrides, bike rentals and corn mazes.
"I love creating experiences for people and making memories," Mark said. "I want to share memories, and I think people like to reconnect with the soil."
Carrie was the one who found the first "glamping" trailer on eBay.
"Each takes about six months to fix up," she said. She found someone who polishes airplanes, and he agreed to polish her newfound trailers to heighten the gleam of their exteriors. After renovation, she put white picket fences in front of the trailers, added some fake grass and a few plastic pink flamingos, and she was on her way to becoming a hotelier. Guests can even order breakfast from the farm's bakery cafe to be delivered to their trailer door.
Her next venture, she said, will be glamping in treehouses. But she's busy right now helping run the farm and bake their popular peach cinnamon buns. The farm also offers 16 salad dressings, a dozen salsas (not including the hot ones, Carrie said) and myriad other foods. Their annual peach output of 200 to 300 peaches per tree sells out in a single weekend.
Nearby is another well-known and visited Foodie Trail attraction. Tour guide Karen Perkins at the family-owned 100-acre Queen Creek Olive Mill had her audience of 30 visitors already captivated when they entered the plant's pressing room, where olive oil production begins.
The long sunny days and cool desert nights yield ideal growing conditions for olive trees, she said. Their olive oil is smooth, but it expires just like fruit does. To help visitors understand, she pointed out a colorful instructional chart explaining in detail the refining process, sensory attributes and classifications of different oils.
"We have a man who comes in here regularly, buys a bottle to take home and 'mists' it on his popcorn instead of using butter," she said.
Next, she passed out samples of the firm's extra-virgin olive oil so patrons could experience the pungent "kick" in the back of the throat, a defining property of "really good oil," she said. In the olive mill store, shoppers tasted everything from crackers to balsamic vinegar, stuffed olives, tapenades, sauces, spicy olive oil dark chocolate bars — even spicy beans, pure raw honey and martini mixes.
Next, we headed for lunch at The Churchill, the home of 10 mostly startup food venues housed in shipping containers situated around a 9,000-square-foot courtyard. Hartley Rodie, originator of the unorthodox setting, says he's dedicated to helping small businesses. The vendors have all agreed to contribute to nonprofit organizations while participating in Rodie's venture. Innovative businesses such as Freak Brothers Pizza, Foxy Fruit, Breadwinner and Pobrecito (which offers agave and cane spirits) dot the lighthearted venue.
Mesa's Sloan Park, the site of Chicago Cubs spring training, isn't a true gourmet spot, but the food there is part of the Foodie Trail. You need to attend a season's worth of games to try everything once, and the quantity and quality of food offerings is impressive for a venue that only draws large crowds about 15 times a year.
Offerings include basic baseball hotdogs, burgers, beef and chicken sandwiches, wings, salads, hot pretzels, fruit with yogurt, and crudites, the French way of serving raw vegetables on a platter. Food trucks whose menus change every game also serve the stadium, and there's a selection of beer and craft beers.
WHEN YOU GO
For more information: www.visitmesa.com and www.freshfoodietrail.com.
Don Heimburger is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
"Glamping" visitors at the Cozy Peach near Mesa, Arizona, can choose this trailer, complete with outdoor accessories, in which to stay overnight. Photo courtesy of Don Heimburger.