June 2014
Farm & Field

Backyard Orchards

  Sisters Allie Corcoran, left, and Cassie Jones sit on the front porch at Backyard Orchards’ new barn. The new barn allows room to showcase goods, a kitchen for making foods and room for so much potential growth.

Sisters know u-picks are always good for family fun.

If you’ve happened to travel through Barbour County on U.S. Highway 431 in between Columbus, Ga., and Eufaula, you may have noticed something new at mile marker 81, but it is not the new four-lane highway.

Backyard Orchards is a roadside stand started by sisters Cassie Young and Allie Corcoran in April 2010. The Corcoran sisters had grown up on a row crop farm and both went off to Auburn. When Allie graduated in 2009, she was looking at going back home to the farm, but there was not enough room on the farm for another partner. The family came together and started talking.

"We had been on vacations in North Carolina as a family. We always went to u-picks and they were always family fun. We wanted to do something where we could bring families out here and get them a little closer to agriculture," Corcoran said.

You can stop and buy some pre-picked or pick your own.  

They finally decided to locate their business on their family’s old homeplace. Their first step was to clean up the area to prepare it for planting. They also sought the advice of Extension agents and other u-pick operators around the Southeast. They planted their first crops in August 2009.

Corcoran and Young have different backgrounds. Corcoran studied agricultural communications at Auburn and Young studied human development and family studies. Both agree their different areas of expertise have proven to be a great asset to their business.

"We complement each other very well," Corcoran explained.

Young handles more of the paperwork and customer service, and Corcoran handles more of the operational aspects of the business and is the spokesperson for the farm.

"Cassie will often tell me, you have to remember how people think," Corcoran said.

Backyard Orchards started with a small pole barn to sell their produce. Now in their fourth year of operation, Backyard Orchards has grown their business. In the last year, they have built a new building to expand the items they offer for sale and added a kitchen.

The construction of their building was quite a challenge as there are so many regulations to be followed.

  With their new building, the sisters are able to offer an assortment of goods, from homemade jellies to cookbooks, and from snacks to their very own cane syrup. 

"The regulations we had to follow probably started out to ensure safety, but many have lost their practicality," Young said. "Many of the regulations sound good, but are not feasible. You will not understand until you are actually on a farm, doing the work that these laws often do not make sense."

Other challenges that Young and Corcoran face are having help to harvest the fruits and vegetables when they are ripe and ensuring the proper handling of the produce, especially proper refrigeration.

The sisters have learned a lot in their 4 years in business and that learning process is continuing.

"Knowing what we know now, we probably should have done some things differently," Corcoran said.

"When starting an operation like this, you can start off by going all in or you can start and gradually add things like irrigation," Young explained. "We started all in which is costly. It required Allie to work a part-time job, off-farm, for several years."

"We have learned that you shouldn’t try to cut corners. When you do, you end up punching yourself in the back," Corcoran added.

Like with any farm, there is always work to be done at Backyard Orchards. This season is the first time both sisters have been able to be at the farm full-time – thanks to the success of their business. Young and Corcoran have to pick, package and sell their produce along with help from some other workers.

This year, Backyard Orchards is offering strawberries; blueberries; red potatoes; red, yellow and Georgia onions; rutabagas; collards; cabbage; turnip greens; bok choy; squash; zucchini; tomatoes; sweet and field corns; and peaches.

In addition to selling produce, Backyard Orchards now welcomes field trips from local schools.

"We love having kids come," Corcoran said. "It is so fun to see them wander in the fields and learn about agriculture first hand."

This year with their new building, they are able to do birthday parties and small meetings, and one day would like to host weddings.

Ice cream is a popular item at Backyard Orchards in the summertime. Peach, blueberry and chocolate are made the old-fashioned way in an ice cream maker. According to Young, "We sell ice cream as quick as we can make it."

Even though it is more work than just picking up a bucket of fruit, the u-pick option is very popular.

"It is rewarding to watch people pick their fruit and take a bite of a strawberry in the field and really enjoy it," Young said.

Since it is the season for fruits and vegetables, Backyard Orchards is currently open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Sundays 1:30-5:30 p.m. In the fall, there are special hours for pumpkins and gourds. You can visit their website at www.backyardorchards.com or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Anna Leigh Peek is a freelance writer from Auburn.