“I didn’t know a date palm from a fan palm when I bought the place,” says Janna Anderson, head of Pinnacle Farms in Laveen. “I started looking at them and I said, ‘Hey, those are dates, aren’t they?’ They’re all in really awkward places. We’ve preserved them even when they’re in the middle of the driveway.”
Some bend near the adobe farmhouse, built in 1934.
Some can even shade the chickens, who lay at least four dozen eggs a day.
All palms now bearing fruit are Maktooms, a varietal brought to the U.S. from Iraq shortly before the first World War. In many ways, Pinnacle Farms and the small, unheralded farms in its bucolic vicinity are vestiges of the past, remnants of why Phoenix was settled: fertile soil, fecund potential, a history of farming going back millennia.
By the mid-20th century, dates had become a celebrated Arizona crop, though today that culture is largely relegated to Yuma. Nonetheless, Anderson grows rare dates on land part of a property subdivided many times over the decades. She grows common fruit and row crops on these acres, another seven-acre plot, and a 50-acre stretch in the west Valley. She sells at her on-site farm stand, and to a few local restaurants.
Tratto. Persepshen. Hotel Valley Ho. Plus, third-party distributors.
In light of so many high hurdles, why even farm at all?
Pinnacle is far from an industrial operation — something suggested by its tents and AirBnB trailers. Anderson grows food with integrity, farming without spray. She uses Salt River Project water, irrigating her fields with a mixture of flood and drip irrigation. She pays her laborers well, “$30 every two hours,” making it hard for her to compete with south-of-the-border farms, which pay “$30 a week.”
The eggs at Pinnacle open to yolk the color of freshly squeezed orange juice. The dates are meaty and sticky with syrup, and the onions sizzle with zing. But despite quality, high-end produce brings in a mere cash trickle. “People don’t want to spend their paycheck on produce,” Anderson says. “They buy cheap lemons.”
Anderson supplements the income she makes from farming with a bevy of secondary sources.
For now, it’s picking ripe eggplant and red-purple okra.
For now, it’s harvesting dates, replanting their cuttings, and hoping new palms will grow.
For now, it’s gritting against the sea of obstacles and proceeding with fall planting. It started at the 50-acre plot in Waddell right around last month's autumnal equinox. “We’re flexible,” Anderson says. “We’re not stuck on a certain date. It’s complicated.”
The piercing chicken calls and sun pulsing your skin pull you, walking the farm, again and again back to the present — to the adobe house and the date palms, the pickled eggs and chain-link patterns on plump heritage chickens, to the camping tents leaking twangy music.
Anderson says, gesturing out over the land. “This area really is so many awesome farms that nobody knows about."