Sunday, August 3, 2003

He's peach of the 'burbs

Bob Scott and his tiny old orchard thrive amid homes of Villa Hills

[IMAGE] Bob Scott's family planted peaches in 1827.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
Bob Scott grows peaches in the most likely and unlikely of places.

It's a likely place because peach trees have bloomed and borne fruit on this rolling Kenton County land for nearly two centuries. His great-grandfather planted the first orchard here in 1827. So history proves the fertile red ground and warm air drifting off the nearby Ohio River are kind to peaches.

But it's also an unlikely place because Scott's tiny orchard is surrounded by subdivisions - big, expensive homes planted side-by-side. From the clump of fruit trees, you can hear the whir of home air conditioners yards away. High-pitched roofs equipped with satellite dishes rise above the orchard, an oasis of green among the winding asphalt driveways and cul-de-sacs.

"They don't bother me," says Scott of his suburban neighbors.

If anyone can grow peaches here, it is this gentleman farmer, who earned a horticulture degree from the University of Kentucky and has decades of practice. Scott turned 90 in April, and grew up picking and eating the fuzzy fruit.

"My mother said my first words were: Me like a peach-a," he says with a smile, a cap pulled down nearly to his bushy silver brows.

Bob Scott sells a few peaches from his home (2003 Highwater Drive) in Villa Hills. Kremer's Market (755 Buttermilk Pike) in Crescent Springs also sells his fruit. Here are other places to buy freshly picked peaches. Call for availability.
• Beiersdorfer Orchard, 21874 Kuebel Road, Guilford, Ind. (812) 487-2695.
• Hidden Valley Fruit Farm, 5474 N. Ohio 48, Lebanon. (513) 932-1869.
• Hollmeyer's Orchards Farm Market, 3241 Fiddlers Green Road, Green Township. (513) 574-0663.
He hitches up his red suspenders and continues his tour of Elbertas, Redhavens and other peaches, taking slow, stiff steps.

"I'm a little wobbly but don't think anything about that," he says.

Elmira, his second wife of 13 years, allows her husband can't get up on the roof like he used to. But he still climbs 8-foot ladders to prune trees. For the last seven years, since his open heart surgery, his health has been good.

"I was 83 then and wasn't worth much," says Scott, who wears a hearing aid in each ear.

He reaches to lift a limb resting on the ground. His large, tanned hands look strong, the skin smooth - younger than 90 years. Underneath the foliage he finds blush-red fruit nearly the size of grapefruit - so striking, so large, it looks out of place hanging here in a postage stamp orchard. Like jewels in a woodpile.

Long family history

Inside his cool brick home, built in the early 19th century, Scott pulls out boxes of journals and yellowed family diaries. A wall clock ticks as he recounts the practiced story of how his great-grandfather married the daughter of a Revolutionary War veteran who owned this piece of wilderness. The Scotts always farmed, but they always went to school. His father earned a degree in civil engineering. His two older brothers were scientists. One worked on a project related to the atomic bomb during World War II.

A few weeks before he graduated from college in 1934, Scott's mother called to say his father suffered a stroke.

"I wanted to go on and get my master's and maybe my doctorate," he says, a little wistfully. "But I gave up my education and came back to the farm."

He raised chickens, peaches and a family, and devoted much of the rest of his time to education, serving on the Kenton County School Board for 24 years. In 1976, the board honored him by naming a new Taylor Mill school Scott High School.

Finally, in 1994, when he realized he couldn't farm it all forever, Scott sold all but two of his 112 acres to developers. He divided the sale proceeds among his three children, and put much of his share into a charitable trust, which is used to fund high school and college scholarships.

"Always believed in the value of education," he says.

Nourished by fruit

When asked the inevitable question about the secret to his longevity, Scott puts credence in his daily mid-day "salad" of iceberg lettuce, sliced banana, croutons and cottage cheese drenched in milk. He has never eaten much meat, and now, because of a digestive problem, he rarely eats peaches.

"When I eat cobbler, it's mostly ice cream," he says.

But the peaches nourish Scott in another way. That's why he didn't think twice about not selling his white-columned house and backyard orchard with the rest of the property. Pruning, fretting about bloom-killing frosts and picking the luscious fruit mean too much to him.

"As long as I can, I'll do this," he says.

He tugs on a plastic webbed fence surrounding the orchard, pointing where a peach-hungry deer broke through.

"They say this fence is supposed to last another 12 years," he says with a flash of blue eyes and a grin. "I think that'll take care of me."

We're not betting on it.


Although Bob Scott can't eat many peaches, his wife, Elmira, says she makes up for him. Here's her favorite peach recipe:

Elmira Scott's Fresh Peach Cobbler

4 to 5 cups sliced peaches

1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons + 1 cup flour

4 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup shortening

1/3 cup milk

Place sliced peaches in 8-by-9-by-2 inch baking pan. Combine 1 cup sugar, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons flour. Sprinkle mixture over peaches and stir. Dot with 4 tablespoons butter.

Sift together 1 cup flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening and stir in milk, until dough holds together. Turn out onto floured board; pat and shape dough to fit top of pan.

Place dough over fruit and dot with remaining 2 tablespoons butter; sprinkle over remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake in preheated 425-degree oven about 30 minutes, until browned on top.


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