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• John Aplin’s family has been growing vegetables in some form or fashion in southeast Alabama since 1952, but the survival of the farm has depended on a constant willingness to change.
JOHN APLIN OF Aplin Farms in southeast Alabama challenges the state’s fruit and vegetable growers to “dare to be different” in deciding what to grow and how to market it.
John Aplin’s family has been growing vegetables in some form or fashion in southeast Alabama since 1952, but the survival of the farm has depended on a constant willingness to change.
We’ve had to evolve over the years, and we’ve had to make constant changes to stay in this business. There’s no other way if you want to make money,” says Aplin, whose fourth-generation, family owned and operated farm is located in Geneva County, between the towns of Slocomb and Dothan.
“My grandfather started growing vegetables in 1952. Prior to that time, he had grown row crops such as corn and cotton,” he says.
“By 1970, we were up to 200 acres in tomatoes, and that was the only vegetable crop we were growing.We were growing tomatoes for the green market, shipping them all over the United States and losing money. We were fighting to keep our heads above water with a lot of acres of a very expensive crop.”
By the 1980s, Aplin Farms began to see the need to diversify and cut back on tomato acreage, he says.
“Some years would be good, and we’d hope that it would last through the next bad year or until we had another good one. But by the 1980s, we were growing multiple kinds of vegetable crops. We were robbing Peter to pay Paul, hoping that the peppers would do good to help pay for the tomatoes.”
Sometime in the late-1980s to early 1990s, Aplin says they began to discover retail and decided that it was the direction the farm needed to go.
“So we began to downsize out of necessity and make changes we felt we had to make. This included more diversity. We went from growing one crop in the 1950s and 1960s to this past year, when we had approximately 170 varieties of different fruits and vegetables on the farm.
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“Now we consider ourselves to be primarily retail. We have constantly downsized. We do ‘you-pick,’ local sales and local farmers’ markets. By doing this, we’re taking about 20 percent of our product and making 70 to 80 percent of our income. The other 80 percent of our product makes 20 percent of our income, which is wholesale. If we had continued strictly in the wholesale business, I wouldn’t be farming today.”
Aplin’s main season runs from June through October each year. Produce is most plentiful during June, July and October. They finish the year with a fall crop including pumpkins, farm tours, a corn maze, and other vegetables and activities.