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Cardinal Farms Peaches in Henderson has sweet history

At Cardinal Farms in Henderson, you can buy farm-fresh peaches and experience electric cooperative history at the same time. The farm is the site where, in October 1937, then-owner Frank T. Street became the first rural electric consumer in Kentucky. The farm’s significance is commemorated with a historical marker, located 6 miles south of Henderson on U.S. Highway 41 Alt. Perhaps the greatest testament, though, are the peaches themselves—the product of a visionary grower who used electricity to change his farm forever. 

In 2023, the importance of electricity to Cardinal Farms Peaches goes without saying. Power provided by Kenergy Corp. runs the farm’s walk-in coolers, drive-in coolers, freezers, sales floor lighting and even the electronic devices that farm manager Tim Alexander uses to communicate with customers on Facebook. And yet, despite its importance, it’s nearly invisible. “We don’t think about it,” Alexander says. “It’s part of life.”

It was a different story when lines were first energized. “It was a memorable day in 1937 when three-phase power was delivered to the Cardinal Farms packing shed … ” Street wrote in these pages in 1949, noting that the energizing of the lines greatly simplified the packing process, which had previously relied on finicky gasoline engines. 

In May 1950, Rural Kentuckian described Cardinal Farms as a 3,400-acre enterprise that produced beef cattle, hogs, fruit and 1,500 acres of peaches planted on ridge land. Below the ridges, which offered “ideal isolation,” 200 acres of seed corn grew in protected valleys.

Electricity drove large fans that dried fresh-picked seed corn in ventilated corn cribs until its moisture content dropped to the desired 13%. The dried corn was then brought into the seed house on electrically driven belts, shelled by electric shellers and bagged using electric elevators. “Electric motors make this process much faster and easier, and good lighting is absolutely essential,” Street told Rural Kentuckian

Street had a visionary bent long before electricity came to the farm. In 1917, he was a newly minted graduate of the University of Kentucky who had studied agriculture, working during the summers for Henry Barrett, then-owner of Cardinal Farms. After graduation, Street went to work for Barrett full time as farm manager. One of his first projects was a risky undertaking—planting peaches. 

Credit: Joe Imel

A Purdue University expert had convinced Street that the Henderson area enjoyed unique winter weather conditions, similar to those typically found 100 miles farther south. Inspired, Street planted peach trees—and the harsh winter of 1917-18 destroyed 100% of his crop. Undeterred, and despite his employer’s skepticism, Street replanted. Just five years later, the peach trees were in full production, selling for $4.50 per bushel. Barrett agreed to enlarge the orchard. 

Current farm manager Tim Alexander grew up on a farm next door to Street’s property, which was managed by his son, George Street, until the 1980s. Alexander’s father took over management of Cardinal Farms when George Street retired, and Alexander moved back to the farm full time in 2000. The farm has seen many changes through the years, with varying investments in cattle, wheat, tobacco, popcorn and around 2015, more than 4,000 acres of corn and soybeans. 

When Alexander took over management, he decided to get out of corn and soybeans and focus exclusively on Frank Street’s original crop. The same challenges Frank Street faced in 1917 continue to plague peach production in 2023. Earlier this year, Alexander estimated that severe cold in December 2022 cost him 40% of his 2023 crop. But even as uncertainty about the growing season remained, he expressed gratitude for being able to continue the peach-growing tradition at Cardinal Farms. 

“This is what I love to do,” he says. “If I didn’t love growing peaches, I definitely wouldn’t be doing it.” Learn more about Cardinal Farms Peaches on its Facebook page.

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