[Editor’s Note — This article is part of our August Focus on Alabama Agriculture. It also celebrates small family farmers, something we always like to do. If you know of a family farm anywhere in the Southeast that deserves a spotlight, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
For more than 100 years now, Allman Farm and Orchards has been out in the sticks of Alabama. That’s not an insult – that’s the way they like it.
“We tell people all the time, ‘When you think you went too far, you’re almost there,” jokes Destiny Allman, daughter of Daniel and Amy, who handles marketing, is involved in food safety, and, along with brother Chance, deals with whatever else may come along on a commercial family farm that’s been in operation since the early 1900s in the same bucolic mountaintop setting between Oneonta, AL and Springville (combined population roughly 11,000).
“We started with a little cattle, transitioned early into tomatoes and have 50-60 acres and plant six times a year,” Destiny says. The orchards came into production five years ago and provide plums, nectarines, pears, apricots and peaches, even in this frostbitten year where most of the Southeastern crop was devastated by a late frost.
Peaches were “interesting this year, you hear a lot of horror stories where people haven’t had peaches. We encountered a little bit of that but overall, we’ve been blessed. We missed a few chill hours but overall we’ve had a productive crop, very healthy, and we’ve been able to give people what they want.
The tomatoes go to Alex Kontos Fruit Co., parent of Birmingham’s Handy Candy company, which has made a name selling super-sweet grape tomatoes in a four-ounce, easy-to-eat cup designed for on-the-go snacking.
Other vegetables and the fruits from the orchard (and watermelon) are sold to scores of local fans – the Allmans have more than 1500 Facebook followers – and occasionally at farmers markets.
Dad Daniel does the farming, Chance mainly helps in the fields, Destiny’s learning the office side of things from mom Amy “so Chance and I can take over with ease to continue the legacy of our farm.”
Forget H-2A visa worries or labor problems in general – the Allmans have worked with the same local family, the Picenos, for 18 years. “Their kids are our good friends, we go to their birthday parties and they come to ours – we treat our workers like family because if we’re not willing to do the work we can’t expect anyone else to,” Destiny says.
Peaches may have gotten a break this year but the tomato crops have been dealing with a variety of bacterial problems and diseases “due to a lot of rain, so we’re picking them more on the greener side — if they start getting too ripe they won’t last long enough to sell.”
The partnership with Kontos has yielded benefits beyond a buyer for the crop. Along with the Auburn University Extension, Kontos has helped farmers navigate the tricky waters of food safety and the looming raft of new regulations coming with full implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
“We’ve been able to become a USDA Harmonized certified farm, meaning we practice the best agricultural and handling practices,” Destiny says. “With the help of Kontos and Auburn we’ve gotten a lot of CEs on food safety and the FSMA regulations that are coming up.”