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Produce stand yields returns for sisters

August 25, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Chambersburg

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Every watermelon, zucchini, cantaloupe and ear of corn sold by the Heckman sisters gets them closer to straight teeth and a college education.

Acting on an idea suggested by parents Wesley and Karen Heckman early last spring, Ann, 12, Aimee, 11, and Allison, 10, agreed to enter into an equal partnership in the produce business under the name Me and My Sisters, at 3511 Mercersburg Road.

"We liked the idea because Dad said we'd probably make a lot of money," Ann said.

The girls have little overhead in their new business, having converted the family camper into their produce stand and makeshift office.

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They use their bicycles to commute to work every morning from their home to the end of the gravel driveway.

They even have a professional crop consultant nearby, whom they fondly refer to as Dad and whom they turn to frequently.

The sisters have learned how to plant a variety of crops, when and how much to water them, and how to tell when they're ready to be picked.

"You feel the ear at the end, and if it has nice, big kernels, and if the silk is dark, it's ready," explained Ann, standing next to a cornstalk twice her height.

Though the sisters are finally enjoying the fruits of their labors with steady customers and cash, they've learned how much work it takes to grow and maintain an acre-and-a-half garden of produce and three acres of sweet corn.

They started at the end of March, planning their garden, digging, laying down the trickle irrigation pipe and stretching black plastic in between the rows for weed control.

Then came the planting, all done by hand.

"Yeah, and it's not fun. Your hands get sore," Allison said.

But that hard work is quickly forgotten as the three walk together down the rows to inspect and inventory their crops, checking at least once a day on several large pumpkins growing in the sprawling patch nearby and comparing the sizes of tomatoes.

For the past several weeks the girls have gotten up at 7:30 every morning to harvest, where they've learned to toss and catch the honeydew melons and cantaloupes across the rows. They make separate trips with the heavier watermelons.

The produce is then cleaned off and hauled up to the stand where the family prices the items and puts them on display.

On Saturdays, the girls take turns accompanying their father to the Farmers Market in Greencastle, Pa., where they also sell produce.

Two sisters at a time take care of the stand at home, where they preoccupy themselves with Barbie dolls, books and cross stitch and occasionally dip into their stash of Tootsie Rolls while waiting for customers.

"Sometimes we don't get any (customers), sometimes we get a bunch," Allison said.

"We had like a billion people a day when we had the corn," Ann added.

At the end of each week, the sisters split the profits equally. All three are saving up for braces and college, though Aimee also has her heart set on getting a horse.

Next year the girls plan to expand their business, perhaps adding strawberries and chrysanthemums to extend the season.

"We'll do it every year until we get tired of it," Allison said.

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