Just Peachy: All About Peaches in Rhode Island

Peach season has arrived in all its heady glory. Learn how to pick them, buy them and prepare them from local farmers, foodies and chefs.

Peach Final PicPeach Paradise: Sunset Orchard
A warm breeze blows through a grove of fruit trees at Sunset Orchard in North Scituate. The 168 peach trees quiver, their early summer, walnut-sized fruit as fuzzy as a young teen’s upper lip. On magical evenings, the sun dips below the horizon and the sky blushes shades of pink, purple and orange.
“We have a beautiful sunset here,” says Kate Lachapelle, who runs the orchard along with her husband, Matthew. “That’s how it got its name.”
The sun has been tracing its daily path over Sunset Orchard for more than 100 years, seeing it through a century’s-worth of weather and change.
The first trees were planted in 1910 by Forest Brown, who expanded his brother’s orchard (Highland) across the street, creating Sunset Orchard. Sunset Orchard changed through time, shrinking when Highland was sold off but carrying on under new owners, the Polsenos, who purchased the farm in the ’60s.
Fast forward to 1988. Ten-year-old Matthew Lachapelle runs through the trees, picking up dropped apples, inspecting them for worms and, if clean, collecting them for cider.
“I was a neighbor to the Polsenos, I lived right next door for my whole life,” he says. “I pretty much worked there seasonally for almost twenty-three years: a long time!”
Working there as a kid and growing up with the orchard literally in his backyard, Matt got a working knowledge of what running a fruit business takes.
“I had quite a bit of experience and started learning different things. They taught me different responsibilities and as I got older, I started doing a lot of managing work.”
But life went on and he started working other jobs, until he was approached by the Polsenos who were looking to sell.
In 2013, Matt and Kate purchased the farm to breathe new life into it. It was a learning experience for the couple, especially Kate, who had no idea how to run an orchard.
“I went blueberry picking and strawberry picking as a kid growing up; I never did apple picking or peach picking. So it was a whole new world. I’m learning as I go, but Matt just knows everything, the ins-and-outs. I learned everything from my husband.”
But even with their baby steps into the
industry, things are looking pretty good.
Kate runs her fingers over a particularly laden peach tree branch, plucking a few small and blemished fruits off.
“We’re doing really well this year, which means we are going to have to hand thin all of these,” she says. “We leave the big ones so the tree can put its energy towards them.”
Having to cull the weak links is a good thing. It means the trees are working like clockwork, photosynthesizing sun and turning it into great balls of concentrated fire, a.k.a. peaches. Too much is better than too little. Better than last year.
“With last year’s frost and freeze, almost every farm in New England lost their peaches. It was very disappointing for our customers and devastating for the farmers. There was no income to keep the farm going,” Matt says. “You still have to maintain the trees and prune and spray and fertilize even if you don’t make any money off them.”
But the devastation had a silver lining for Sunset Orchard.
Kate looks at the vast rows of peach trees, intermittently interrupted by nectarines dotted with small, dark early fruit. “One thing we were all able to do last year was a good heavy pruning, which helps the trees because they are not expelling energy to produce fruit. I think this year is really gonna be good for all of us,” she says. “We put a lot of TLC into the trees.”
Having an orchard, especially one that grows soft-skinned peaches, is no easy task, but for the Lachappelles, it is certainly rewarding.
“You have to really love what you’re doing and have an interest in it and have an outlook of ‘my hard work is gonna bring something enjoyable to somebody else,’ ” Matt says. “People are coming here to pick fruit with their kids or coming here to enjoy the atmosphere, and that’s what makes it worthwhile.”
Sunset Orchard, 244 Gleaner Chapel Rd., North Scituate, 934-1900.