The sweet aroma in the peach orchards alone is worth a trip to Schnepf Farms this time of year. Add sunshine, a breeze, twittering birds and friendly faces, and it’s an entire urban escape experience.
But for some, the Queen Creek farm is more than just an experience; it’s home — and has been for decades.
Rosie Aldecoa, 74, has been working with the Schnepf family for 53 years. She was originally hired by owner Mark Schnepf’s parents to care for Mark as a newborn.
“I fell in love with Mark when he was born,” Aldecoa says. “Mark’s my only kid.”
Schnepf spent weekends at Aldecoa’s house with her 12 siblings and grandmother. Her father, brothers and sisters also worked for the farm.
She became a “second mother” to him, Schnepf says, and her grandmother became his “second grandmother.”
“I rely on her wisdom, her life experience and advice,” he says. “She’s done it all and has been here for a long, long time.”
Generations of families have lived and worked at Schnepf Farms, growing, shrinking and evolving with it. Schnepf says there are about five multigenerational working families there now.
“I don’t think there’s many businesses, if any, that have the same situation that we do here at the farm,” he says. “Families care enough about this place and their jobs to stay.”
Three generations of Molinas have made that family part of the Schnepf fold — and legacy.
Farm foreman Vincent Molina, 45, has lived on a Schnepf-owned farm his entire life. He’s worked with the family for about 27 years, along with his father, brothers and sisters. Molina apprenticed under his father, who worked on tractors and was the farm irrigator, he says.
His wife, sister and two of his three children also work for the Schnepfs.
His only complaint is that he doesn’t spend enough time on a tractor.
“(Schnepf Farms) has reduced in size, a lot,” he says. “I only work about an hour or two (on a tractor), and before it was all day, like 10 hours.”
Over the years, the farm has downsized and turned to “agri-tainment” to make ends meet.
‘I’m still here’
In her time with the farm, Aldecoa lived and traveled with Schnepf’s parents and eventually cared for them before they passed away, she says.
At one time, she ran the family’s potato shed.
“I had over 200 people working for me sometimes. I was the boss lady,” Aldecoa says.
The Gilbert native now lives off the farm in Queen Creek and holds various managerial positions at the farm.
“I do just about everything,” she says, from managing orchard crews to clerical work in Schnepf’s office.
“They’re the best people to work with,” she says. “That’s why I’m still here.”
A special place
Aldecoa and Molina play an active role in the farm’s annual Peach Festival, which begins this weekend. Molina is responsible for “cleaning up” the farm, and Aldecoa hires and manages seasonal workers and orchard crews. Tens of thousands of visitors will come through the farm each day of the festival.
“We’re a pretty special place, and we’re proud of that legacy,” Schnepf says.
He and his wife, Carrie, who now live in Gilbert, hope to preserve their family farm for future generations. Two of their four teenagers are interested in taking over the East Valley attraction.
• Angela is a senior studying journalism at Arizona State University. Contact her at email@example.com.