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June 23, 2010   Email to Friend 

SISTER ACT: The Corcoran Girls Take A Stand With Backyard Orchards
By Debra Davis

Cassie and Allie Corcoran hope their new Backyard Orchards roadside stand will bring in enough customers that they can someday open their own restaurant where they can serve the food they grow.
The aroma of fresh peaches, the taste of ripe tomatoes and the glow of bright yellow squash are sure signs that summer has arrived at farmers markets and roadside stands across the state.

A bright spot that seems to have accompanied the nation's economic slump is the effort by consumers to "reconnect" with locally grown food, said Alabama Farmers Market Authority Director Don Wambles. He said few states have more to offer than Alabama.

"More and more farm families are creating an experience for consumers who want to make that connection, and it's a success story for farmers and shoppers," Wambles said. "Alabama has more than 200 roadside stands, 126 farmers markets and 130 u-pick farms that provide shoppers what they're looking for. It's also giving many of these consumers an opportunity to make a connection with the person who actually grew the food they're eating. One of the most rewarding things for me is to be at a market or roadside stand and see that connection take place between a farmer and a consumer."

Sisters Allie Corcoran and Cassie Corcoran Young of Barbour County are creating just such an experience at their new roadside stand, Backyard Orchards, which opened earlier this year.

"It's wonderful to watch people take a bite of a juicy strawberry and love how good it tastes," Allie said. "And it's great to see children learn about where their food comes from."

The Corcoran family has a long history of farming in Barbour and Russell Counties. Allie and Cassie's father, Walt, along with his brother, Tom, and their cousin, Liston Clark, are well known for their ability to grow great crops of peanuts, corn and cotton. But growing fruits and vegetables is a new twist to the family's farming operation.

When Allie graduated from Auburn University in 2009 with a communications degree she wanted to come home to the farm. It was then that the family began to develop the plans for Backyard Orchards, she said.

Walt Corcoran supported the idea, but encouraged his daughters to take a different approach to farming.

"When we started talking to dad, he told us agriculture is changing and that we need to change with it," Allie recalled. "Cassie wanted to work on the farm, too, so this seemed like a good way for us to do it."

The sisters rent land from the family and say they are fortunate to have access to equipment such as tractors, plows and planters used for other crops on the farm.

But even the new farming venture is deeply rooted in the family's agricultural history. Their roadside stand is built on the former home site of their great grandmother Helen Taylor. The sisters' grandmother, Hallie Dalon, grew up there and still enjoys sharing stories about the farm.

Although the old house has disappeared, towering oaks and pecan trees that once shaded the home place now provide a canopy for the new roadside stand. Plans for the stand started in May 2009, and the first crops were planted last August. The stand held its grand opening April 10 and is still a work in progress.

"We have a lot to learn, and we've learned a lot already," said Allie who boasts a golden tan and strong arms. She is obviously accustomed to the physical side of the business. Cassie, who along with her husband, Cody, is expecting her first child in late June, focuses on the business side of the operation, providing accounting skills. Allie said Cassie has a knack for filling out applications for grants and permits, an area of the business that required a lot more work than they expected.

But despite the hard work, the sisters are looking to expand what they offer. One day, they'd like to have a restaurant on site that serves what they produce, and they'd like to have a real farmhouse and farm equipment for children to see and touch.

"We want children to know and appreciate what farmers really do," Allie said. "We've already had some field trips this year, and it's amazing to see children wander through the fields learning about agriculture first hand. They know then that someone actually grew what they're eating. It didn't just come from the store."

And the taste is one thing that gives Alabama farmers a big advantage over fruits and vegetables purchased in the grocery store.

"The flavor is so much better, it's undeniable," said Alabama Farmers Federation Horticulture Division Director Mac Higginbotham. "That's another great reason to buy locally grown fresh food that hasn't been shipped across the country. It definitely tastes better, and I think consumers appreciate knowing they've supported a local producer in their community."

Backyard Orchards offers blueberries, watermelons, tomatoes, peaches, squash, okra, cucumbers, corn, peas and more. Much of it is grown within sight of the stand, but some items are purchased from other local farmers to increase the variety of what's offered. More information about their farm is available on Facebook pages by searching for Backyard Orchards.

For a list of farmers markets, roadside stands and u-pick operations, visit the Alabama Farmers Market Authority website at BuyLocalAlabama.com.

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