What is in this article?:
- Southeast Alabamaâ€™s Aplin Farms turns focus to retail markets
- Agri-tourism successful
- Maximize efficiency
- Recipe works
• 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.
“About eight or nine years ago, we began doing more agri-tourism with pumpkins and farm tours, and that has been really successful for us with a lot of new business following,” says Aplin.
One of the biggest changes Aplin has made over the years is to move back to the local food movement.
“Since the ‘Buy Fresh Buy Local’ campaign started several years ago, it has made a big difference in what we do, how we do it, what we sell on the farm, and how we sell it. We’re taking advantage of these local food markets.”
To go along with local sales, Aplin says he’s now finding that the retail stores such as WalMart want smaller-scale growers to supply for them.
“We’d like to do it, but we’re telling them ‘no’ because they can’t afford our product, and they won’t pay what we want for it.
“That sounds boastful, but I don’t mean for it to be. If we’re selling retail, I don’t want to turn around and sell them something for 20 to 50 percent of what I’m going to get for it wholesale. If I did, I’d have to grow more just for them, and sooner or later I’d be caught in that big-box store trap, and they would win in the end.”
Aplin remains heavy in retail markets and on-farm sales. “Since we have started this, we are actually making money now, and that’s difficult to be able to say in agriculture sometimes. Marketing is not as much of a problem now as making sure I’ve got a product to sell at market time.”
One of the main problems on the farm now is scheduling, says Aplin.
“For example, we plant tomatoes on our farm, eight to 10 plants, spaced two to three weeks apart. We have to have everything we grow on the calendar, and we have to know when to plant it.
“Hopefully, if the weather cooperates, the schedule will come together and it’ll all be ready at the right time. Scheduling is the biggest thing for us — having a consistent supply of produce for our markets and for the people who come to our farm and buy directly.”
For the past several years, rather than getting bigger, Aplin Farms has gotten smaller, and profits have increased, he says.