Make family memories at a newly revitalized u-pick orchard in central Oklahoma
The McKinish family business took an unexpectedly sweet turn when they became owners of Wind Drift Orchards in Harrah, Oklahoma, last year.
The brothers and their wives, Mike and Heather McKinish and Shawn and Theresa McKinish, were looking for land on which to construct homes and a building for their payment processing business. They handle electronic payments for small businesses and national chains spanning 500 locations, including the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. But when they visited the 114-acre property Shawn had found on Zillow, they realized they had stumbled upon something special.
“It was gorgeous,” Heather says, recalling her first impressions of the land just west of the Canadian Valley and Central Rural Electric Cooperative districts. “Perfect.”
There was only one issue — they had not realized the property was an orchard. It’s two, actually, split into an east orchard and a west orchard about 2 miles apart, with 12,000 peach and nectarine trees. And it is beloved by the community.
As many as three generations of peach lovers in and beyond Harrah have enjoyed picking peaches at Wind Drift Orchards since it was started by Bill Spencer in 1986. Spencer, who died in 2019, sold the orchard in 1997 and, after about five years, returned to manage it until his death. The orchard was also owned for a time by Aubrey McClendon, former co-owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It didn’t take long for the McKinishes to abandon the thought of building houses and start dreaming up a separate, new business plan to revitalize Wind Drift Orchards. They had to act fast, though, with trees full of fruit by the time they finalized the purchase in May 2022. By June 24, the u-pick orchard was fully reopened to the public.
The orchardWhile you will find 42 varieties of peaches and nectarines at Wind Drift Orchards today, including five new ones planted by Mike and Shawn last year, the McKinishes want visitors to leave with more than just fruit.
“We want people to leave with an experience, a memory that is going to last,” Mike says. “Wind Drift Orchards is multi-faceted. You get to see where food comes from, how it’s grown. And in a society where we spend a lot of time looking at our phones, it’s nice to get out and do something a bit different.”
Each orchard entry includes rides on the “people mover,” a wagon pulled by a utility vehicle, as well as all the peaches you can pick and eat. The orchard also offers a concession stand with peach pies, jams and other treats, as well as family-friendly activities including a petting zoo with goats, pigs, a Highland cow and chickens.
Some people, like Ronnie Mason Sr., of Jones, Oklahoma, simply enjoy wandering among the peach trees and finding a shady spot under which to sit.
“They (the McKinishes) are doing a good job of getting peaches to the people,” Mason says, noting the fruit’s history in the region stretches back to Land Run days. He brings his grandchildren who “have a ball” picking peaches and appreciates the family-friendly environment.
The fun continues after peach season ends in September. Last Halloween, the McKinishes hosted a haunted trail through the orchard and sold pumpkins. Santa Claus came to visit in December, transforming the peach orchard into a place to buy Christmas trees.
“Seeing the kids light up, the families outside together all with smiles, I think that is the most rewarding part of this whole thing,” Shawn says.
Getting to opening day was not easy, though. The McKinishes had to learn everything, from tractor driving to tree tending, from scratch. There were moments they thought they might have taken on too much, but Mike likens their story to that of the 2003 comedy, “Bruce Almighty.” Their personal Morgan Freeman was Jerry Spencer, Bill’s brother. It seemed every time the McKinishes hit a problem, Jerry would show up with just the right advice to keep them moving in the right direction.
“He’s really been a godsend,” Heather says.
By the end of 2022, more than 20,000 people had come to Wind Drift Orchards, some who had spent a full day driving from Colorado or Indiana just to pick fresh, Oklahoma peaches. Others shared stories of past years’ peach pickings and recreated the memories with their own children.
“I can’t tell you how many good people we have met,” Mike says. “To echo a quote from Bill Spencer, ‘Peach lovers are truly special people.’”