For nearly a century, Scott’s Orchard of Hazel Green has grown delicious peaches and apples along the Alabama-Tennessee state line. But three years ago, the farm discovered a new cash crop — making memories.
This year marks the third season for the orchard’s pick-your-own operation, which grew significantly from its inaugural year, said Will Scott, a fifth-generation partner in the farm.
“We started the pick-your-own attraction as a way to establish a family experience,” said Scott, 26. “I view it as a way to promote agriculture and a way to let everyone enjoy our farm. I also want them to see the hard work involved and to understand that hard work can be fun and rewarding. Families make a lot of memories while they’re picking apples.” Agritourism is a growing business in Alabama. Farm entrepreneurs are cashing in on urban residents seeking to reconnect with the land and meet the people who grow their food.
Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Matthew J. Ulmer said operations like Scott’s Orchard are a significant portion of the state’s agritourism industry. Those adventures include pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hayrides and farm wedding venues, just to name a few.
Agritourism helps farmers generate additional income, create part-time employment for seasonal workers and provide entertainment for families who want to enjoy a rural experience.
“The most recent data indicate we have 481 agritourism attractions in Alabama,” said Ulmer, who specializes in community workforce, leadership and economic development for Extension. “Those businesses generate nearly $6.8 million in annual cash receipts for the state.”
Before opening its orchards to the public, the Scott family had an established customer base selling apples and peaches. The farm began in 1901 on 233 acres and harvested its first crop of apples in 1927. It now spans 1,200 acres and grows 18 apple varieties, 22 peach varieties and row crops that include soybeans and corn.
Offering different varieties of the fruits extends the farm’s growing season and keeps customers coming back for more, Scott said.
“Children get so excited when they come to pick apples,” said Scott, who graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 2015 with a computer information systems degree. “Most of the parents will tell you they didn’t realize there was so much going on at the farm. We also offer an operations tour (by appointment) that includes a guided wagon ride through the orchards and a tour of the packing line and cold storage facilities.”
The anchor of Scott’s Orchard is its store at 2163 Scott Road in Hazel Green. It’s open June-December, Monday-Saturday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday 1-5 p.m. Saturday is Scott’s busiest day for apple pickers, and its hours are the same as the storefront.
Admission to the orchards is $2. A half-peck of apples (5 pounds or 12 apples) is $5.50. A peck (10 pounds or 24 apples) is $8. Apples also are available in 20- and 40-pound boxes. Customers can also buy fruit through Scott’s online store at ScottsOrchard.com.
Last year, the orchard attracted 2,200 apple pickers and were open only on weekends. Scott said he expects more visitors this year because it’s open every day.
“Fall apple season is our busiest time, and we employ up to 30 full- and part-time employees then,” Scott said. “We sell peaches from June through August and have apples from June through October.”
Customers can buy pre-picked peaches and apples, as well as fresh apple cider, pies, caramel apples, candied apples, apple slushies — even apple-flavored ice cream.
“Our apples are popular, but customers really like our apple cider because it’s made right on the farm,” Scott said. “Every batch of cider tastes a little different since it’s made from a variety of apples, and there’s a tiny bit of pulp in the bottom that makes it taste extra fresh.”
Scott’s Orchard apples are popular among thousands of school children, who enjoy the fresh fruit through Alabama’s Farm-To-School Program. Madison County and Madison city schools, Athens city schools, Limestone County schools, and Cullman city and Cullman County schools all serve Scott’s apples.
The farm also sells at farmers markets and to produce distributors from Montgomery to Nashville to Chattanooga. But Scott said he finds the on-farm experience especially rewarding.
“I feel grateful I’m able to share my job and our lifestyle with people,” he said. “I hope they leave here with a better appreciation of farmers and a better understanding of where their food comes from.”