Late last September, we wanted to do an episode to highlight the history of apples in the area. This was something we had heard about, but really didn’t fully understand until we started looking into the episode. Wow, so much information on the history alone that a movie could be made on that. It was neat to learn with the coming of the railroad in the 1880s, growers began planting apple trees by the thousands in the area. While every county in Northwest Arkansas grew and shipped apples, Benton and Washington Counties were the major players in the area. Now with the changing times and weather, apples are not a major player in the area, but one that should not be forgotten.
We choose Vanzant Fruit Farm to dive into that history. This family has a long been in the area. Steve Vanzant mentions Peter Graham in the episode, so here is what we learned from doing some research. Peter Graham homesteaded Northwest Arkansas in the early 1800’s and was Steve’s Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather. I don’t have a picture of Peter, but we did receive this one from Regena Shelby that shows his grandson, Silas Graham(1850-1929).
Peter had a son, Nelson Graham who was killed at the spring mentioned in the show. Nelson was the father of Silas Graham. In this photo, Silas is in center surrounded by his grand children. He was born in Benton County Sept. 5, 1850, and spent his entire life in this area. For many years, he has made his home on the farm originally known as the Barr place just east of the Butler ford on the White River. Silas Graham’s son was John Nelson Graham, who had a son, Harvey Graham. Harvey was Steve Vanzant’s grandfather on his mother’s side. He is pictured here two people to the right of Silas.
Steve’s mother Kahylene Vanzant, was born on May 14, 1927 on their family farm here in Lowell, Arkansas. When she was 15, Kahylene caught the eye of Fred Vanzant, 17, while her parents were singing at a small church in Sonora — this chance moment marked the beginning of their 74-year love story.
After Fred returned from his WWII tour in the Navy, the two were married June 27, 1948. Together they established Vanzant Fruit Farms in 1949. It was a run down Chicago Fruit Farm at the time of purchase, but together made it the successful Fruit Farm we know today. Now they grow the finest peaches, apples, and grapes in Northwest Arkansas. They have been providing us and the four state region with only the highest quality of fruit and vegetables. They also grow pumpkins and tomatoes on their farm to make sure they always have something available in their market.
When we talked with Steve Vanzant for this episode, we were surprised by what a character he was. He was so much fun to talk to and learn from. He has adapted to the markets, the regulations, and varieties over the years to make sure to keep this farm going. It has not been easy, but his heart is there.
Even though Steve Vanzant was light-hearted, he was also in a hurry because he had to go check on his mother who had just returned from the hospital the day before. She was not doing well. We heard soon after, on October 29, 2016 she passed peacefully surrounded by family. We asked the family if we could mention it and dedicate the episode to her, and they said yes. We dedicated it ‘In Memory to Kahylene Graham Vanzant’. She sounded like a lovely lady and although I did not meet her, I was touched by what her and Fred have created.
If you want to experience Vanzant Fruit Farms, just visit the market on Highway 264 when they open for the season in 2017. We were able to take some delicious Black Apples and honey and make this Honey Mustard Chicken and Apples dish. We couldn’t resist this meal, and we don’t think your friends and family will either! Be sure to let us know how your cooking adventure turns out.
If you didn’t get a chance to watch it, WATCH NOW! You will enjoy learning even more about this great family farm and how to make this one skillet dish that is healthy and hearty.
If you want to learn more about the history of apples in the area, here are some great resources to check out:
UP NEXT on Episode 4: Watch this Saturday on Cook with Brooks, when visit to Wood Stone Craft Pizza in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to talk with owner and chef Jerrmy Gawthrop. He cooks up a pork chop and belly with braised kale and butternut squash puree with goat cheese that highlights six different local ingredients. Brooks then sits down with Clayton Suttle, Wood Stone Craft Pizza co-owner, to learn more about what inspired them to start this business and thoughts on farm-to-table movement in Northwest Arkansas.