An open letter to the residents of the Town of Queen Creek and San Tan Valley. Shared with ❤️ and kindness.
I moved to the area almost 29 years ago when I married my wonderful husband Mark Schnepf, who was then Mayor of the Town and working with his father on the farm. This small community of Queen Creek didn’t even have a stop light and the only stop sign was at the corner of Ocotillo and Ellsworth.
Rittenhouse road was this diagonal road that brought people out to the farm, because it actually ended right at Combs, after that you were driving onto to old dirt farm roads. There was one elementary school, one middle school, no grocery store, a great circle k, some wonderful family restaurants like Rudy’s and Jim’s. Our favorite hardware store (Russ’ True Value) is still here, and run by Russ’ son. The community had 1 sheriff in town, who was loved by all, and the fire department was contracted through Rural Metro. I remember when we donated a living Christmas tree to the town for the first community tree lighting ceremony. I also will never forget the first All Denominational community choir that performed the Messiah at the Performing Arts Center. What an experience to hear 300 beautiful voices backed by a chamber orchestra. These memories are things that I cherish.
I didn’t grow up on a farm, I’m a city girl, I married a man who had an incredible history and a desire to preserve it. (It’s funny, because I was so happy to marry a farmer, I thought I would never have to work another day in my life, ? especially when they sell it.) But every day living on the farm and seeing the hard work of hundreds of employees made me realize that this piece of history in Queen Creek needed to remain a farm for generations to come . So little by little Mark and I started selling a little land so we could preserve some more. I know many people think, oh farmers are so wealthy, well they do have land but they also have extreme risks planting crops that produce sometimes only once a year (like peaches.) You know something I think people should know about Mark’s father, Ray Schnepf , who moved here on his honeymoon night in 1941. Early on Ray Schnepf quit taking government subsidies if his crop was bad, because it didn’t feel right. He wanted his farm to survive on his own blood sweat and hard work. Ray knew that it was becoming more and more difficult to grow traditional crops and make a living so he started diversifying. In the early 90’s he was approached by some music producers that wanted to start an event called country Jam USA. Ray didn’t even think twice about taking 250 acres and turning it into a huge festival site with a large concrete stage, concrete seating area for VIP’s and plenty of camping and parking for up to 30-thousand residents. That’s right, Ray and Mark and Schnepf Farms were the hosts of Country Jam USA that became Country Thunder for 9 years! Despite the fact that the producers never paid their bills and Mark and I ended up paying some of the performers so they could get on stage, the event was so fun to host and a boom for our little community.
The farm continued to grow. We added a train ride, we planted trees , carved out walkways. And as other farms around us sold to development, we tried to make sure a piece of their history was preserved. The Guest Service building on our farm was relocated from the old Neely farm in Gilbert. The Candy Shop was relocated from Williams gateway airport housing, the Museum was relocated from the original homestead where ——- development is . We are going to open a garden center that is housed in the Mak Hastings old office that we moved from their property across the street. The water tower was purchased and moved from the corner of Ellsworth and Cloud where the old cotton gin used to be . The Gantzels potato shed was moved to the farm, now there is a beautiful Frys grocery store in its place. Our petting zoo was a old hay barn built by Marks grandfather. We took it apart piece by piece and rebuilt it. We also have farm implements and tractors from the Phillip Barnes family displayed around the farm. These are all part of Queen Creeks history.
As more people moved here we started adding things to keep them here longer to enjoy the farm. The farm has always been free to come in and still is (except during large events.) As more people visited we had to hire more employees to help with upkeep, trash and operations. We always knew how important education was, so we added school tours on the farm for $6pp (now we charge $7pp) , farmer for the day programs for $20pp, we opened a bakery and country store in our old roadside stand. We charge the same price for our breakfast with Santa and our Easter event that we have for 21 years.
When we started the Pumpkin & Chili party in 1998, we served the same chili dinner as we do now. In 1998 the dinner of chili, roasted corn, cornbread, brownie and a drink cost $10pp. In 2018 we charged $12pp. And that included the 8.5% sales tax. In 1998 , we had about 50 employees . Minimum wage then was $5.50an hour ? It was a great first job for many teenagers that we paid $6 to $7 an hour. The event was fun and people from all over the valley enjoyed it. I remember when we ran out of bowls for the chili dinner, well Mark drove quickly to the only store in town, circle k and purchased all they had. As we added more rides, food options and entertainment, the employee base grew to 200 and the minimum wage also increased to $11 and continuing to go up. The admission in 1998 $15pp, the admission in 2018 was $17pp if you purchased at Frys. The admission INCLUDED everything on the inside except Food, pumpkins and train rides. Please don’t forget that besides the minimum wage increase, our workman’s comp insurance increases, cost of food and overall farm insurance increases to cover the visitors who come to the farm.
During these last 25 years, thousands of people have moved to the area, San Tan became its own identity, we have a ton of traffic, there are hundreds of stop signs and signals, a hospital, hundreds of shops , grocery stores, services, a movie theatre, restaurants and more have opened their doors. The economy is doing well. The hard part about the farm is, it really is a farm and it requires spending hours outside during this heat to keep things operating . According to the Arizona Farm Bureau, farmers are getting the same prices for food as what they got 40 years ago. I don’t know what it is . I love what we are doing and love creating events and most importantly I love being a part of this amazing community. What I don’t love is all the negativity and hurtful comments, hurtful business practices that are spewed about our family business on social media. Mostly on these two group pages.
Just to be clear, I understand many people people don’t like the farm or their experience wasn’t what they were hoping for. Everyone who comes to the farm experiences it differently. It may be too crowded, too slow, too many bees, too run down, too hot, closed, traffic is terrible, too expensive, too big, not enough to do. And all of these comments are read by hundreds or thousands of people and us, and sad thing is, very few of the comments make a suggestion on how to improve their experience so they can return again. Every business wants to improve to get repeat customers, including us . I agree, the farm, especially during the summer, looks tired, but little by little we are making improvements. We don’t ever want the farm to be sparkly new and shiny, but we don’t want it to look unkept. it’s almost 100 years old and we want to keep it continuing. We want to add new experiences and new events. We want our community, the residents who live here, to be proud of this little bit of history. All of the events we do at the farm are designed to be different. October is Fall fun and the whole farm is open. Our new Christmas event is going to knock the socks of people (announcing soon), peach blossom is low key and about the beauty, peach season is all about the peaches, 4th of July a down home place to gather and enjoy a spectacular show. In between we are just a farm where you can come pick organic veggies, shop in the country store and have a delicious lunch or something yummy from the bakery, visit the animals , walk through our museum, or even take a train ride.
As more and more people move here , that means more construction and buildings and congestion. Recently the farm has been the subject of social media posts again because of the upcoming 4th of July event. We have a lot of new families who have moved into town asking about the farm and in particular the 4th of July? I read a comment from someone who said “traffic leaving the farm is the worst, I’ll never go back?” One suggested that they should go to Tempe Town Lake? Another one said it’s too expensive? One of the main reasons we cancelled the 4th of July last year was because of the road construction on Riggs road, now Riggs is open and congestion leaving the farm will be a lot less. Yes, I am sure there will be some slowing and patience will be required, but isn’t that what you expect when you leave any large event? When I see road construction in front of someone’s family business my first thought is, dang how tough for them to keep coming to work every day because it’s hard to get into their business, my second thought is I am going to stop and spend money so they can STAY in business. Road construction around Queen Creek is going to continue for a long time as we try and catch up with the growth. All it requires is patience when you are driving home or wherever your destination may be.
The 4th of July in Queen Creek is for this community. Ray Schnepf and his brothers started shooting off fireworks for the community in the 1940’s to celebrate the 4th. This year our son Connor and his business partner Bri are doing it all themselves. They are spending their own money on this huge fireworks show for the community (I know how much it is costing.) They have to rent porta-potties, hire security, music, and everything. Why would any person tell someone to drive an HOUR to Tempe Town Lake to celebrate the 4th? It’s $25 a carload to come to this event. There aren’t any rides, so no extra cost there. There WILL be contests and giveaways every hour. Food trucks will be on site, craft booths who would love you to visit. This event is totally for all of you! Bring your friends and family, fill up an ice chest , picnic blankets and don’t forget your beach umbrellas, but come enjoy each other! Be Grateful that you don’t have to go far to have this kind of experience? These two young entrepreneurs are spending thousands of dollars in an effort to make people happy. And keep fireworks in Queen Creek . Pretty soon there will be so many houses around us, that it probably won’t be worth it to do the fireworks because everyone can watch them from their backyards and no one will want to spend $ to go to a farm and sit in a grass field. Well, it’s not just sitting in a grass field, it’s much more. We are trying to celebrate our sense of community, our freedoms, our need to be together and to help each other. We want residents to feel like they did on that first Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 1994, when it felt like every member of our community was there singing and sharing stories.
Queen creek and San Tan Valley? Let’s all be residents who respect each other, who support family businesses, who don’t judge because maybe the establishment wasn’t for you, but maybe it would be perfect for someone else. Who critique with kindness (like the Rock just said when accepting a generational award.) Be kind to others, it matters. My favorite quote from a Cinderella? Be kind and have courage. Let’s be that community! We don’t have to make a big announcement like our Gilbert neighbors and tell everyone this is the kindness community (haha) we need to Demonstrate it by how we drive, how we walk down the street, how we go through a grocery store line, or the Starbucks line, how we act at the parks, how we act at town council meetings, how we act with our neighbors, with businesses, with our teachers, our schools our leaders, how we act with our emergency responders, and most importantly how we post on social media. There was an unknown author who said “the very process of speaking kindness brings a happiness all its own.”
Thank you all for reading through this.
With love and kindness