For the next three or four weeks, the father and son team of Scott and Joseph Dothard will enjoy the fruit of their labors that began last fall.
In the middle of April, the duo began eating strawberries they raised on their farm northeast of Jacksonville and banked the money from their sales.
In one of two 2-acre fields, the Dothards’ tractor has laid the drip tape and the weed-control fabric, tasks that must be done before planting. Then, they wait through winter as the plants go through the proper amount of cold weather before their spring debut when emerald leaves emerge followed by the ruby-red strawberries.
The Dothards monitor the cold weather, though, and cover their plants with yards and yards of fabric that keeps the strawberries from freezing.
The farming is expensive and time-consuming, but the yields are worthwhile. The strawberry season lasts only a couple of months, and, of course, they don’t make enough money from the sales of their strawberries. Both work other jobs.
Before the strawberry project began, some of the Dothard family members researched their genealogy. Information they learned along with their neighbor Harold Ponder revealed some interesting news. The family learned that, in the late 1800s, when Scott’s great-grandfather, Joseph, settled in what is now Nances Creek. One of the crops that he discovered did well in the soil was strawberries.
“We studied our genealogy,” said the present day Joseph, who stopped by the farm around lunchtime. “Our neighbor, Harold Ponder, helped us and we learned that the farmers in the family were Joseph, Clarence, Dave Harlan, Scott, Joseph, and now his two daughters.”
The other family members include Scott’s mother, Jenny, and his wife, another Jenny, a younger son, Riley. Joseph’s wife, Sabrina, and his daughters, Elizabeth “Libby” and Loralei, who are two years old and one, respectively.
That makes seven generations, and Scott said some of their extended family members became well-known because of their careers in law enforcement. One, in particular, was E.C. Dothard, Alabama’s governor and then-presidential candidate George Wallace’s bodyguard. In 1972, when Wallace was running for president, a bullet grazed Dothard at the same time Wallace was shot during an assassination attempt. Seven months later, Dothard began serving as the director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety until 1978.
On Monday morning, the sun was beaming down on the backs of the few customers picking strawberries. Each weekend that number grows exponentially, according to Jenny, who is also called Nana.
“We have a crowd,” she said as she sat and greeted customers. Not far in front of her are two miniature swings that hang from the branches of an overhead pecan tree. Those are for Jenny’s great-great granddaughters.
This year, the surrounding fields are lush green thanks to the spring rains.
As pickers pick, the only sounds they hear are birds tweeting in other nearby trees and an occasional car moving up or down Old Rocky Ridge Road.
By mid-morning, Scott and “Nana” were watching over the long, neat rows of strawberry plants as they greeted the pickers who parked nearby, paid their $15 each and retrieved a white basket or two they would use to hold their strawberries. Usually, each customer stops by to chat for a few minutes on their way back to their car.
“Everybody is happy in a strawberry field,” said Scott. “This is very enjoyable. Look at me. I am sitting in a rocking chair talking to people I know and meeting new people.”
Nearby is a rock house with fresh white trim that the family is using to store things they need to maintain the fields.
The original Joseph built the house sometime around 1850 for his family of five. Scott stood inside the small main room and showed off an adjoining smaller room. He said the smaller one was the family’s bedroom.
“It is hard to imagine a family with three sons living in this little house,” he said.
Currently, both Dothards, their families and Jenny live on the farm.
Three members of another family of strawberry pickers said they were from Turkey. They introduced themselves as Sadik Arin, his wife, Ves, and his son Mert. They moved to the area from Ankara, Turkey. Sadik is a professor of criminal justice at Jacksonville State University where he has worked for the last six months.
“We don’t like big cities,” Sadik said, “but we enjoy small towns like Jacksonville.”
They ended their task by showing off their two gallons of strawberries.
Bending over and picking the strawberries tugs on the back, but Scott is right. No one complains, and everyone seems happy. It doesn’t take long to fill a basket, and Scott doesn’t reprimand anyone who eats a few berries as they pick. He, too, said he eats some every day straight out of the field.
“We don’t use pesticides or herbicides, and we use an organic non-toxic fertilizer,” he said.
Around lunchtime, Joseph joins his father on the farm. Joseph is an environmental engineer and works for a company in Oxford. Scott works for Dothard Construction and has a flexible schedule.
“Joseph wishes he could only farm, but he wouldn’t make enough farming to live on,” Scott said.
Those interested in picking strawberries should visit Nance Creek Farms or a number of other farms in the area. The Dothard family’s strawberry farm is at 832 Old Rocky Ridge Road near Jacksonville. The farm is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Before heading out on rainy days or as the season wanes, it is best to call before coming. Call Scott at 256-689-6241 or Joseph at 256-689-6238.