FILER, Idaho — Nestled alongside the Snake River just west of Twin Falls, Kelley’s Canyon Orchard has been a draw for generations of fruit lovers.
The orchard is in its 110th fruit-crop season, and locals with bushel baskets knew their way to the U-pick rows of peach trees on Sunday afternoon. Others, from as far away as Boise, chose freshly picked produce from the farm stand welcoming visitors to the orchard.
The operation has a rich history from its beginnings in 1906 to its current, fourth-generation owners — sisters Robin and Gretchen. Although married, the women still go by the family name, Robin Kelley Rausch said.
While the operation has had small blips of large distribution, its focus has always been direct sales to customers, she said.
It’s a business model that harkens back to her great grandfather, John Steele Gourley, who planted the first fruit trees at the orchard in 1906. His father, a preacher, had come to the Magic Valley from Pennsylvania to help with the development of the First Presbyterian Church of Twin Falls.
Gourley recognized the climate in the Snake River Canyon was ideal for cultivating stone fruit and obtained land and water rights there under the Carey Act. He established his orchard on 50 acres along the banks of the Snake and planted melons between the trees to make a little money while the trees were maturing.
For years, he would haul his produce to Twin Falls by horse and wagon, selling to houses up and down neighborhood alleys, Kelley said.
Love for the orchard was carried down to his daughter, Mary Anne Gourley Kelley, and grandson, Richard Kelley — father of Robin and Gretchen.
The business ran under the Gourley name until Richard took over in the late 1970s and expanded the operation. After Richard’s death in 2014, Robin and Gretchen took the reins.
“Some of the things I love the best are the multiple-generation experiences. It’s a rite of passage,” she said, not just for her own family, which is bringing in the fifth generation to the orchard, but also for the customers who have been coming to the orchard for generations. People who brought their children to the orchard are now bringing their grandchildren.
It’s a connection of food and family. Kelley’s is part of other families’ traditions, she said.
“It’s always been a place for people to come and enjoy. We really pride ourselves on a sense of place,” she said.
But it isn’t an easy business. The orchard lost 85 percent of its cherry crop this year due to a late freeze this spring. The freeze and a hail storm took half of the peaches and plums and decimated the nectarines. Apple production is also down due to a bad bud set last fall.
“The orchard business is maybe a four-month revenue stream, maybe, if everything goes well,” she said.
But she and her sister, who both also have careers outside the orchard business, are dedicated to making the orchard thrive. They are putting all the income from the orchard back into the business, and they’ve opened their grandmother’s house on the property as an Airbnb destination to bring in more revenue and provide visitors with a unique experience, she said.
“There is a love for the place and the legacy of tradition and a responsibility to family,” she said.
The orchard is a shared story between the family and customers, old and new, she said.
“The people at the stand might love our peaches, but they’re more buying our story. It’s an experience — and we do grow really good fruit,” she said.
“We work really hard and value the people who work for and with us. And we really appreciate the community support. We cannot thrive or survive without community support,” she said.
Robin Kelley Rausch
and Gretchen Kelley Bietz
Owners: Kelley’s Canyon Orchard
Location: Filer, Idaho
Acres: 200 acres, 70 acres cultivated
Production: Cherries, apricots, cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, peaches, plums, nectarines, pears and apples
Sales: On-farm stand; farmers’ markets in Twin Falls, Boise and Mountain Home, Idaho; farmers’ market in Elko, Nev.; private distributor in Reno, Nev.