November 2015
Farm & Field

The Secrets of Jackson County

  The 34 men and women who participated in the 2015 Jackson County SWCD Faces of Agriculture Tour are pictured at Stewart Farms. Those who signed up included a Scottsboro city councilman, a bank loan officer, a high school agriculture teacher, an Alabama A&M University student completing his master’s degree in an agricultural field, and representatives from county and state ag offices. Laurie Gibson, center, wearing a purple sweater, put the tour together. She is the District Administrative Coordinator for the Jackson County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The best-kept farming secrets of this North Alabama county are discovered on a 2015 Ag Tour.

Some of North Alabama’s best-kept farming secrets lie in Jackson County.

On a mid-September morning, gathered for the 2015 Jackson County SWCD Faces of Agriculture Tour, 34 travelers set off on a tour bus to discover five of those secrets:

A third-generation row crop farm that’s new to modern irrigation;

One of half a dozen lumber mills in this part of the state;

A demonstration farm in the making for the education of children and adults;

An orchard at 1,700 feet that produces 20 kinds of apples plus a wide assortment of other fruit crops; and

A museum that describes a community begun in the Great Depression to help impoverished tenant farmers.

Third-generation farmer Phillip Stewart describes his center pivot irrigation system to the tour group. He grows corn and soybeans. The farm has been in the family since the early 1980s, starting with his grandfather.  

Stewart Farms

The first stop on the tour was the farm of Phillip Stewart.He left a public job in 1998 to take over the operation from his grandfather. The farm has been in the family since the early 1980s.

Today, Phillip and his father grow 2,200 acres of row crops including corn and soybeans, and raise 200 head of beef cattle. Answering a question from one visitor, Stewart acknowledged that “95 percent of the crop is no-till. The yield is much greater.”

Dwarfed by a huge tire on the loader attached to his tractor, Stewart told the group about the lengthy well-drilling process and how the center pivot irrigation system works.

“I can irrigate 175 acres with this system,” he said. “The well will pump 1,000 gallons a minute.”

Input costs per acre for each corn crop are $400. He said he “should have used a fungicide this year for the corn.” In the future, he can use the irrigation equipment to apply both fungicide and nitrogen.

Stewart has “a couple million” invested in farm equipment. The loader, for example, cost $54,000. It can hold 1,150 pounds of corn. The combine is leased at $39,000 annually. By comparison, it costs $250,000 to purchase a used combine.

Stewart Farms is located at 3190 County Rd. 11; Scottsboro, AL 35768. You can contact Phillip Stewart at 256-574-9118 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  Standing beside freshly sawed lumber, WW Lumber Co. owner Scott Woodall describes his family business to onlookers. The lumber company specializes in turning out hardwood timbers into boards for flooring and cross-ties. He and his family began work at this new facility in 2008. The company has been in operation since the late 1990s.

WW Lumber Company

Next on the tour was the WW Lumber Co., one of five or six sawmills in North Alabama, according to Scott Woodall. When he and his father, Ronny, moved the operation to new facilities in 2008, income jumpedfrom $12,000-$15,000 a day to $40,000 a day. The mill employs 20-25 workers.

One major difference between lumber mills in North Alabama and those in South Alabama lies in the type of wood handled, said Woodall. North Alabama mills process hardwoods like walnut, cherry, poplar, white oak, red oak and hickory, while South Alabama mills handle pine, a soft wood.

Lumber for flooring and cross-ties are merchandised locally and in Tennessee within a radius of 60-75 miles from the mill. The mill does sell some products to South Korea and China. Woodall, a registered forester, also helps a few landowners with timber management.

WW Lumber Co. is located at 1201 County Rd. 11; Scottsboro, AL 35768. You can contact Scott Woodall at 256-589-6198 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Graham Farm and Nature Center

  Left to right, Donna Sands acts as a guide for those on the Jackson County Farm Tour as they ride around the Graham Farm & Nature Center. The land for the center was donated by Nita and Bob Head, retired professors of art and physical education in Kentucky at Murray State University. The farm was given to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System via the Jackson County Extension Office. Visitors take a look at a creek which runs through the Center. Future plans call for low-lying areas to be developed into wetlands, said Noah Bowling, onsite manager.

The tour group rode into the mountains to reach this demonstration farm. Still in its formative stages, it lies on the former property of Nita Graham Head and her husband, Bob. It is their wish that the Century Farm remain in farming in perpetuity and be used to educate youth about agriculture.

“The land will always stay in agriculture,” said onsite manager Noah Bowling. It’s “in the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program …. The low-lying areas where the buttercups are will be wetlands. We also have a small herd of cattle.”

Bowling, who lives in the white frame home on the property, plans to grow native warm-season grass in the future. Youth activities have already begun with kayaking available in nearby waters.

Graham Farm and Nature Center is located at 420 County Rd. 27; Estillfork, AL 35745. For more information, you can contact Donna Sands at 256-574-2143 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Robert Deutscher moved to Skyline Mountain from Indiana to start Crow Mountain Orchard. The elevation of 1,700 feet is ideal for growing apples. Among the 20 varieties he grows are Red Delicious, Gala, Jonathan, McIntosh, Golden Delicious and Mutsu, plus pears, grapes, muscadines, blueberries, blackberries and peaches. Inset, ripe apples ready for picking.  

Crow Mountain Orchard

If the rush to buy apples and homemade cider was any indication, this 80-acre orchard atop Skyline Mountain was one of the most popular places to see on the tour. At a maximum elevation of 1,720 feet, Crow Mountain boasts good conditions for growing apples, including the cooler temperatures at night, said owner Robert Deutscher.

He and his wife, Carol, maintained an orchard in Indiana for a number of years before deciding to head South in 1975. The Deutschers grow more than 20 varieties of apples with Red Delicious at No. 1. Others include Gala, Fuji, Mutsu, Ginger Gold, McIntosh, Jonathan, Golden Delicious, King Lusk, Ozark Gold and the 20-ounce Pippin. Eight men and women work the orchard during apple-growing season.

However, apples aren’t the only fruit crops; pears, grapes, muscadines, blueberries, blackberries and peaches can all be found here.

Crow Mountain Orchard is located at 6236 County Rd. 39; Fackler, AL 35746. You can contact Bob Deutscher at 256-437-9254 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Skyline Farms Heritage Museum

  A guide shows museum guests a diagram of the acreage in the colony and where the farms were located.

An agricultural tale of the Depression years is the focus of this museum. Photographs, historical documents and artifacts tell the story of a unique farming colony begun by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to aid selected farmers and laborers barely getting by financially.

Chosen through an application process, these farmers and laborers moved to Skyline Mountain and worked for what they received. They helped clear the land, constructed homes, and built a road, a school and what is now the museum building. In its heyday, it functioned as the community store.

Under the New Deal program, the government provided seed, breeding stock and other necessities to start a new life. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt picked out the acreage herself for these families, a tour guide said. The aim was to have a house and 40 acres for each farm.

Considered a failure by some critics, the Skyline Farms Project did bring many families through the toughest part of the Depression. Job training for the adults and education for the children were definite benefits.

Skyline Farms Heritage Museum is located at 802 County Rd. 25; Scottsboro, AL 35768. For more information, you can contact Deborah Helms at 256-587-6122 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Maureen Drost is a freelance writer who lives in Huntsville. She was a career journalist for The Decatur Daily and The Huntsville Times.