NO TIME LIKE CHRISTMAS: Schwerman Finds Fun In Holiday Season
By Darryal Ray
He flies airplanes, gliders,
blimps and hot air
|Schwerman and Santa take a stroll through the farm's 15,000 Christmas trees.|
He's been an interior
engineer and employee of
the Department of Defense's
Missile Defense Agency.
"If it's not fun, I don't do
it," says Dr. Roger Schwerman.
"I get bored very easily.
You might say that's my
problem, my curse."
But it's also what spurred
Schwerman to buy a 70-acre
Christmas tree farm more
than eight years ago when
all he needed was two acres
for his two polo ponies.
"I figured this would give me
a place to play and enjoy," he
recalled. "I told myself, 'I grew up
on a farm. I can figure this out.
Plus, I know a little bit about trees.'
So, I just decided to do the whole
The "whole thing" is now
known as Schwerman Christmas
Tree Plantation, just off U.S. 231 in
the Lacey's Spring area of Morgan
It's a full-fledged Christmas tree
farm, a place where Santa Claus
shows up with Donner and Blitzen
every weekend after Thanksgiving,
where a Nigerian dwarf billy goat
named Leroy serves as the "Reindeer
in Training" and two donkeys
named Festus and Marshall Dillon
bray at the scores of visitors who
come in search of just the right
It's also where the thrill-seeking
Schwerman gets his kicks out of
Christmas. "What I like most about
the Christmas tree farm is the joy
you see on the little kids' faces each
season," he says."There is always something new happening
on the farm."
He has 15,000 trees from which to choose -- white pines, Virginia pines, Leyland cypress, Carolina sapphires,Blue Ice, Eastern red cedar and Murray cypress to name but a few. He's sold trees almost as far north as Memphis and as far south as Tallahassee, Fla.
"As I said, I'm always
curious. So, yes, I'm always
looking for new trees," said
Schwerman. "There's one
that I was reading about in
a Christmas tree magazine
the other day and it sounded
really intriguing. So I'm
going to see if I can find
some of those. I always start
with 50 or 100 and if they do
well, I can plant more."
On the average, he'll
sell about 2,000 trees this
Christmas -- a far cry from
the 50,000-100,000 trees
this farm cranked out in the
1970s when Dr. George Brown (who
Schwerman calls "father of the
Christmas tree industry in Alabama")
from Alabama A&M owned
the place and before the industry
became so saturated.
When Schwerman bought
the farm from Brown, the only
trees growing were Virginia pine,
white pine and 50 Leyland cypress
trees. "George said that nobody
ever bought the Leyland cypress,
but they were big, nice trees. So I
shaped them, and George was right
-- nobody wanted them," he said.
"I talked a friend into buying one,
which left me with 49 that didn't
sell. Well, that fall, guess what?
Southern Living ran an article that
said the Leyland cypress is the tree
that the 'true Southern belle' has
in her home at Christmastime. Do
you know that Friday after Thanksgiving,
we sold 48 Leyland cypress
trees! We only had one left. So, on
Saturday, everybody comes out
wanting a Leyland cypress. So I ask
them, 'Why would you want a Leyland
cypress? Last year I couldn't
give them away!'"
He puts the knowledge learned
from his environmental engineering
studies to use in maintaining his
trees, using herbicide only as a spot
treatment and releasing beneficial
insects like wasps and praying
mantises to keep down flies and bag
"I'm still learning," Schwerman
admits. "George and Webb
Thornhill and Paul Beavers (fellow
tree farmers in Pisgah and Birmingham,
respectively) still provide me
with guidance. It's like all the tree
farmers I know -- we all do other
things, but this is our passion."
That's why he'll be open on
Christmas Eve. "There's always
somebody who's forgotten to get a
tree," he says.
"I sell tradition," Schwerman
added. "You can go pick a tree up
in the grocery store, but the difference
is mine are alive. When you
look at a green Christmas tree and
it's rainy and cold or snowing, it
symbolizes that there is going to
be new growth in the spring. It's
a great thing. I know when I first
bought the tree farm, we had lost
several family members in December
-- December is a tough time for us -- and we were
standing up there on the porch when Santa
Claus and his reindeer got here. And there
was this little boy who'd gone inside our
Christmas tree store
with his parents, and
when he came walking
out and saw Santa
Claus and his reindeer,
his face just lit up! My
son reached over and
put his arm around me
and said, 'Dad, thanks
for bringing Christmas
back.' So I don't care if
I make a buck on this
place or not. It was
worth everything. That's what it's
all about. It's the magic of Christmas,
the magic of the season."
For more information about Schwerman Christmas Tree Plantation, call (256) 882-6155. For other farms in your area, check out the digital edition of this Neighbors issue or contact your local county Federation office.