From citrus to cows, Stark City family grows own food

Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Jim Allphin picks lemons from the tree in the family greenhouse. He sells apples and lemons at the Webb City Farmers Market in the summer. Contributed photo

Family keeps food supply going, even during winter

In the dead of Missouri winter, members of a local family pluck lemons, oranges and grapefruits from trees in their greenhouse.

Lee Allphin and son, Jim, enjoy the steady supply of flavorful fruits and vegetables from their orchard, garden and greenhouse, said Robert Balek, a horticulture specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

Jim Allphin, left, and his father, Lee, of Stark City, enjoy growing fruit and flowers year-round. A large orchard produces apples and other fruits while a garden and greenhouse give them fresh fruit and vegetables. Contributed photo

Flowers and herbs add beauty and fragrance to their greenhouse long after the rose garden’s last rose has bloomed.

Balek met the Allphins last fall at an area farmers market. The Allphins told Balek they had too many apples for their family and needed to find a place to sell them during peak season.

Eileen Nichols, manager of the Webb City Farmers Market, told Balek that their market was in desperate need of an apple vendor.

When the Allphins said they had too many apples for their family, they didn’t mean just a bushel and a peck. It was a bumper crop. The senior Allphin is the oldest of 10 children, has 10 children and son, Jim, has 10 children. They keep apples in cold storage, press their own cider, can applesauce and freeze-dry apples for later use.

“We’re not in the apple business, but we enjoy sharing,” Allphin said. “We have wonderful excess.”

They sold more than a ton of apples last fall through the market.

Allphin said he told shoppers at the farmers market that if they tasted his apples, they would be back for more. And, he said, they were, often returning the following week to report that they were the best apples they had ever eaten.

“It was neat to get their feedback,” he said.

Allphin also enjoys the opportunity to give shoppers a risk-free way to try new flavors and varieties.

Many vendors find sampling improves sales, educates customers and connects buyers with their food source, Balek said. Allphin completed food safety training through the farmers market, MU Extension and Lincoln University. The training is required before vendors can offer samples at farmers markets.

He likes to tell consumers how their food grows so they can make educated food-buying decisions. Many ask if his apples are organic. They are not, he explains, because they spray their trees to prevent worms, fungus and black spots on the fruit.

The Allphins rely on MU Extension online resources and follow recommended spray schedules for the orchard. Lee, who has a degree in chemistry, said MU Extension’s research-based information has been invaluable in the orchard operation.

The original Allphin orchard had five rows of 10 trees. Through the years, the Allphins added new varieties, including a family favorite, Pink Lady. Trees produce about 10 bushels each annually. Varieties ripen at staggered times, giving the family new taste treats throughout the fall. A family member who is a horticulturist helps them choose varieties and offers tips on how to keep the orchard healthy and productive. They hire seasonal help for pruning and picking as needed.

There are also about 20 peach trees, six plum trees and sweet and sour cherry trees. Multitudes of rose bushes adorn their stately hilltop home. Their large garden produces vegetables for daily use, canning and freezing.

When temperatures begin to chill, the Allphins move potted citrus plants such as sweet lemons, oranges and grapefruits inside a large glass greenhouse. They also grow bananas, pineapples, mandarins and herbs, as well as flowers, tomatoes and cucumbers. They hope to put up a high tunnel greenhouse to lengthen the growing season for vegetables.

Meat, poultry and eggs also come from the farm.

“We believe in being self-sufficient,” Allphin said. “We like to take care of ourselves and others.”

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