"We're gonna do this!" said Tim McCaskill to his wife, Pam, and so Austin Orchards was born.
Merely 5 years ago, Tim & Pam attended a family reunion in Fredericksburg, TX and left the trip enchanted by the pick-your-own orchards of the area. Once the thought of starting their own appeared, words were exchanged and they threw themselves into the project. Yes, it was quick, and yes, Pam is quick to express, it was exciting!
Austin Orchards flourishes on the McCaskill's 93-acre plot of land situated on the Colorado River. Prior to becoming the orchard, the land was inhabited by tons of thick brush and mainly served as a motocross track for Pam & Tim's son. It is fertile land now irrigated with water from the Colorado, 16 miles east from downtown Austin. And with a wealth of information provided by the Texas A&M's Agrilife extension, Tim began planning.
Within a year, the land was cleared and ready for its first crops. Establishing the orchard became a family endeavor for which she, her husband, three kids, and their boyfriends and girlfriends came together to plant their first peach trees. The trees were planted in just one full day on February 23, 2013.
The McCaskill's sights have been set on opening a pick-your-own orchard since day one, but the first years' abundant crop presented its challenges. A good challenge, of course, but a challenge nonetheless. Pam didn't expect any fruit the first year. Much to her surprise, the blackberries "EXPLODED" and Pam scrambled to figure out what to do with the perishable fruit.
"Someone told me, 'I have a lady who wants blackberries,'" and that's when Virginia Wood, former food editor of the Austin Chronicle, came in. "I called and met up with Virginia at Callahan's and within 30 minutes my phone started blowing up!" Pam was inundated with calls from people seeking to take the blackberries off her hands, and so began Austin Orchards' wholesale business.
Pam is proud that the Orchards' first customers are still customers today, including local Austin food establishments Olamaie, Lenoir, Gelateria Gemelli, Sugar Mama's Bakeshop, and in.gredients.
"We let the fruit ripen on the tree and pick it the day of delivery," she says, "blackberries need to be picked day of." The peaches are some of the ripest, juiciest, and most delicious that we've seen at Lick Honest Ice Creams. That likely explains why her customers keep coming back!
Since the beginning, peaches and blackberries have been Austin Orchards' best and most successful crops, and we at Lick are using both in our summer seasonal Honeyed Peaches with Rosemary and Blackberry, Lime & Basil flavors. But they're not the only fruits grown at the farm. Plums, pluots, nectarines, pears, figs, table grapes (yes, TABLE GRAPES! In Texas!), watermelons, and pomegranates have all flourished in 2017, the biggest production year yet.
Not all crops have been as successful. "I was voted against for doing strawberries again. They aren't fun. Blueberries also weren't fun to pick. The fruit doesn't like the sandy soil." Yet, Pam is open to trying almost anything. We may see loquats and mulberries as well in years to come!
In addition to selling directly to Austin's local restaurants, Austin Orchards also brings their freshly-picked fruit to the Mueller Farmers' Market on Sundays AND to Farmshare's Fresh For Less mobile markets.
Pam & Tim McCaskill's dream is still to open the Pick-Your-Own Orchard, which they hope to do in 2018!