I’ve heard Arizona referred to as a vast and arid food desert. When I moved to Cave Creek two years ago, I thought the same thing. Don’t believe it.
I came for the stark beauty of the Sonoran desert landscape, seduced by the statuesque saguaros and blazing orange sunsets. I didn’t know the same soil could support a bumper crop of peaches, olives and grapes. I’ve tasted for myself the delicious spoils of our sunshiney days and cool nights.
Just miles southeast of the concrete sprawl of downtown Phoenix, lies a small town called Queen Creek. This fertile valley below the San Tan Mountains is home to the state’s only olive orchard and mill, Queen Creek Olive Mill. In addition to tours and tastings, you’ll want to save room for a tasty gourmet breakfast or lunch. The lively trattoria seemingly attracts the entire town.
In the nearby suburban community of Gilbert, a shared vision of urban agriculture has sprouted. Agritopia is a modern day village comprised of housing, plots of organically grown fruits and vegetables, a coffee shop and restaurant, Joe’s Farm Grill that encourages neighborly interactions between growers, residents and visitors. Every Wednesday, there’s a Farmer’s Market and a self-service, “honor” farm stand is accessible 24/7.
Farming is all in the family at Schnepf Farms, the largest organic peach grower in Arizona. Hungry Phoenicians flock to pick seasonal edibles like peaches, plums, apples, corn, carrots, and sugar snap peas, and stay for slices of fresh-baked pie. Schnepf’s also hosts dinner in the orchard with guest chefs from around the Valley.
Winemakers are first and foremost farmers. And in three distinct grape-growing regions in the high desert —Willcox, Sonoita and the Verde Valley—they’ve hit the jackpot. As of June 2013, there are 78 bonded wineries growing nearly 20 varietals. I admit I was skeptical: would the wine be inferior plonk? Hardly. A number of Arizona wines have received 88 and 89 ratings from Wine Spectator and garnered awards at a number of competitions.
Although I’ve yet to get to Yuma, it’s also a hotbed for agritourism, growing winter lettuces and dates. I’m drooling already.
Suzanne Wright is a nationally published travel writer, she’s visited five continents, 53 countries and all 50 states, but chooses to call Arizona home.