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Country Corner: From pumpkin stand to presidential host
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Bruce Curry, owner of Country Corner outside Alpha, stands inside his corn maze at his pumpkin patch, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Bruce Curry, owner of Country Corner outside Alpha, stands inside his corn maze at his pumpkin patch, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011.
ALPHA — Bruce Curry is doing what he always has wanted to do. Mr. Curry, owner of Country Corner, located on U.S. 150, said his business is "a boyhood dream come true."

His dream began 38 years ago when Mr. Curry, at age 12, began selling pumpkins in the front yard of his home, just a half-mile from the current location of his 80-acre business site.

"When I was a boy, our neighbors sold pumpkins," he recalled. "When they moved away, people kept coming to our area to buy pumpkins."

Mr. Curry's father, Charles Curry, encouraged his son to grow pumpkins and sell them.

"That first year, I had about 100 pumpkins, put them in a pile in the front yard and nailed a coffee can to a wooden post in the middle of the pumpkins," Mr. Curry said. "On the can I wrote, 'Please leave money in can,' and I wrote the prices on the pumpkins."

In October of that first year, the young entrepreneur would get off the school bus and run to the coffee can. "When I saw I had $2 or $3 in the can, I thought, 'Hey, this pumpkin business is really cool.'"

After about three years of using a coffee can as his money box, business increased, and Mr. Curry began using a milk can.

"It all started on the honor system, and I believe most people are honest," said Mr. Curry, a graduate of AlWood High School who earned a bachelor's degree in animal science from Western Illinois University in Macomb. "If someone doesn't have enough money in his pocket to pay for what he wants to buy, I tell them to come back and pay me next time. I can count on one hand the number of people who have stolen from me in the honor system in the 38 years I have been in business."

The front-yard pumpkin business has expanded to include a market featuring fresh fruits and vegetables and specialty items such as honey, jams, jellies and cheese.

"We are a complete roadside market," Mr. Curry said, adding that the Fall Fun Park also has a corn maze, tractor-drawn hayrack rides, more than 25 animals in the barnyard zoo, a large inflatable jump house, corn shock maze, learning center and pumpkin games in the timber park.

"Our new features are mining for gem stones, the corn cannon and our own cow train," he said.

"We are open seven days a week from May 1 through Oct. 31, and when we aren't open, people can still order our 'magic popcorn' through our website at country-corner.com."

In his "off" months, Mr. Curry said he continues to learn. "I plan for next year's business; I study and learn about new varieties that are available. … People don't want to eat the same sweet corn they ate 20 years ago. It would taste like cardboard."

Mr. Curry's work and diligence has not gone unnoticed. He received the Agri-tourism Business of the Year Award from the State of Illinois in 2010 and 2011. In August, President Barack Obama chose Country Corner as the final stop on his three-day Midwestern bus tour.

He believes President Obama chose Country Corner for his stop in August because of its website.

"We offer educational tours," Mr. Curry said. "I want to educate people about agriculture. The President thanked me personally for doing that. He said what Country Corner is doing is what he wants to see farmers and agriculture do – teach people where food comes from."

"I have something that 98.5 percent of the rest of the people in the United States want: a farm to visit," Mr. Curry said. "That makes for success. Most farmers do not want to entertain, educate and deal with the public. They don't want people and strangers coming to their farms. I am not like that. ... Bruce Curry and Country Corner enjoy entertaining and educating the public."

Country Corner has offered tours since 1987, and more than 35,000 customers visit the farm each year, including more than 5,000 people on private tours.

"The farm and market offer entertaining and educational tours customized for people of all ages," said Mr. Curry, whose business has "eight key employees and up to 22 part-time employees."

"I am living a dream career," Mr. Curry said. "When you get awards two years in a row ... and the president of the United States gives you an award by picking your business to hold a town hall meeting, I'd say that is a dream come true."




Living the dream

Who: Bruce Curry, owner of Country Corner in Alpha
Quote: “When I saw I had $2 or $3 in the can, I thought, ‘Hey, this pumpkin business is really cool.’”




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  Today is Monday, Sept. 1, the 244th day of 2014. There are 121 days left in the year.

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1889 -- 125 years ago: Bonnie McGregor, a fleet-footed stallion owned by S.W. Wheelock of this community, covered himself with glory at Lexington, Ky, when he ran a mile in 2:13 1/2. The horse's value was estimated as at least $50,000.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Troops are pouring into Paris to prepare for defense of the city. The German army is reported to be only 60 miles from the capital of France.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The German army has invaded Poland in undeclared warfare. Poland has appealed to Great Britain and France for aid.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Publication of a plant newspaper, the Farmall Works News, has been launched at the Rock Island IHC factory and replaces a managerial newsletter.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Officials predict Monday's Rock Island Labor Parade will be the biggest and best ever. Last minute work continues on floats and costumes for the parade, which steps off a 9:30 a.m.




(More History)