Ray and Thora Schnepf moved to the desert community of what was then, Rittenhouse. The Schnepf’s joined other notable farmers to begin clearing the brush to prepare it for row crops. The farmers soon realized the sandy soil in this area was perfect for crops such as cotton, wheat and vegetables. In the late 60’s, Ray Schnepf began growing Potatoes used for potato chips. The Schnepf’s continued to diversify in the 70’s planting Queen Palms, Mexican fan palms and pine trees in a large field. Before long the Schnepf’s were farming over 5000 acres and shipping vegetables across the country. But his favorite crop was candy corn. As visitors drove out to the small farming community they would often stop and ask if they could pick a few ears of corn and some peaches. It wasn’t long until Ray realized that selling corn and peaches for U-Pick was the way to go. And Schnepf Farms began to gro.
Fearing their small farming community would be swallowed up by nearby Gilbert, Mark Schnepf and four friends began the process of incorporating. 1989 it was official, Rittenhouse became the Town of Queen Creek and Mark Schnepf served as the Town’s first Mayor to all 3500 people. He served as Mayor for 11 years. He was a well respected politician that loved the community he grew up in. Under his direction there was extensive planning. For years Queen Creek kept its rural atmosphere and small town feeling, all without a sales tax. Queen Creek became a planning model for other communities. As mayor, Mark also chaired the League of Cities and Towns, was presented with the American Hometown Leadership award in Washington DC and in 1997 the Arizona Republic selected him as the Best Public Official. The accolades and experience were wonderful, but Mark set politics aside and started focusing more on his farm and his growing family.
In the 90’s The Schnepf’s wanted to keep guests on the farm longer, so they started diversifying. Land was sold as the farm downsized and agri-tourism began. In 1992 Country Thunder USA began when 250 acres was set aside to produce this concert . Country Thunder remained on the farm for the next 9 years. More attractions were added including a petting zoo, carousel rides, landscaping, a bakery and more. Visitors to the farm began to stay a little longer on the farm so they could experience a petting barn, play yard, narrow gauge train and carousel. The year 2000, the Schnepf’s started relocated old buildings from neighboring farms that were being developed. In 2004 the Schnepf’s moved the original 100 Year old homestead and created the Schnepf Family Museum which tells the history of the family farm dating back to the late 1800’s. Today, the original Roadside Stand is now the Country Store and Bakery. The original family home became a wedding and reception center called “the Farmhouse”. All these improvements continued while the Schnepfs still maintaining a strong agricultural foundation. As Schnepf Farms continued to diversify, Mark always had a major focus on growing peaches, today the farm is considered the largest organic Peach grower in the state.
In October 2006 Schnepf Farms was designated as an “Arizona Treasure” by then Governor Janet Napolitano and the Arizona Office of Tourism. It was quite the honor when Governor Napolitano and her staff made the trip out to present the award. Today Schnepf Farms is enjoyed by over a quarter of a million people throughout the year. Visitors come to the farm for festivals, events, weddings, educational tours, pick your own vegetables, to pick peaches, shop, foodie events or just to enjoy the beautiful feeling of walking on a true family farm. The farms matriarch, Thora Schnepf, would often walk up to guests and introduce herself and start telling visitors stories of the early years.
Mission Statement: To provide quality family entertainment. To educate and inform. To preserve and create. All with a focus on Arizona Agriculture in an effort to leave a lasting legacy of the generational family farm.
Thursday, Sep 24, 2020 at 5:30pm Mountain Time
Women's Business Center of Southern Arizona
Wednesday, Sep 23, 2020 at 5:30pm Eastern Time
Streaming online via One Day University
Thursday, Sep 24, 2020 at 10:00am US Mountain Time