I’m very grateful to my friend Jim Main, a former Alabama Supreme Court Justice, for joining me at my office in Montgomery and discussing investment property in Alabama. During our conversation, he generously shared his wisdom and experience concerning wildlife management and land management on his family farm. This is part one of our fascinating conversation, so stay tuned!
Buying Investment Property in Alabama
Jim: Yes. We bought the investment property in Alabama you helped us find in December of 1994. First of all, I wanted to diversify my assets. Real estate was something I didn’t really have other than my home. I didn’t want to have rental property because I’m not good at that fixing stuff.
Second, I spent much time on my grandfather’s farm as a youngster. Later, my Dad and brothers purchased farmland in Alabama. It was just logical that I should buy a farm, too.
The main reason was to diversify my resources for future retirement. However, I recently thought of something more important than the money aspect of owning land. As you retire while still in good health, you seek purpose and fulfillment.
My tenure as an Alabama Supreme Court Justice ended at 74, and with the mandatory retirement age, I was compelled to step down. I wasn’t ready to retire fully.
The farm has given me the outlet to start a new semi-career. I have been focused on how I can improve it, what I could add to it, and how to make it more fun for my children and grandchildren. For almost four years, I have been retired. I’ve been as busy as when I was working. But it’s a whole different thing because it’s not the pressure of a job that is your vocation.
Investing in the land turned out to be a smart move, with its value increasing fivefold over the last three decades. At this point in my life, the land holds great importance. It provides me with daily activities and keeps me focused on achieving the next step in its development.
John: When growing up, did your Dad buy investment property in Alabama?
Jim: He did. He was a land investor.
John: I assume you learned about the land from him and your grandpa.
Jim: In hindsight, I wish I had paid closer attention. My father was a pharmacist who had a drugstore. He would get up at daylight many mornings to look at land for sale. Dad would laugh and joke that he looked at a thousand acres for everyone he bought. Acquiring acres of land was like a part-time job. I learned from him about farm lenders and select timber cutting to help make the down payment.
John: Your father was an astute, patient land buyer. That’s what it takes if you’re trying to buy land for a timber investment. You must be very picky and focused and try to make your money on the front end when you buy the investment property rather than when selling it.
You’ll come out well if you make a decent buy front end, even if the economy, land prices, and timber prices go up and down. You are buying the land for the long run.
You and Gale were kind enough to tour your property with my wife and me. I was so impressed with your accomplishments. You had done so much taking a piece of raw timberland and converting it to what we refer to as a “family farm.” You had added a couple of fishing lakes, a beautiful hunting lodge, a barn, expanded the road system, added wildlife plots for deer and turkey, and more.
Your land has been a work in progress since you bought it almost 30 years ago. You’ve been a great steward of land management. What have you learned through this land management, stewardship, and conservation process?
Jim: My journey has been a learning experience, especially in understanding the realities of an American farmer’s life. We planted fields for doves and green fields for deer, only to face the challenges of drought and unpredictable weather. Witnessing the impact of time and money being at the mercy of nature has given me an immense appreciation for farmers.
Land management is difficult. I’m thankful I’m not dependent on making a living from these crops. I certainly have a greater appreciation for farmers. We named our property Wildwood Farm. For the past 30 years, we have worked on projects to improve the place year by year. We figuratively had a blank sheet of paper.
Our property, Wildwood Farm, has been an ongoing project over the past 30 years, each year dedicated to improving it. We began with at least five hundred acres of pine timber that had been clear-cut.
We had a blank canvas to work with, and we embarked on unique initiatives, such as planting orchards with fruit trees, pecan trees, sawtooth oaks, and a scuppernong vineyard. It has been a 30-year education in land management.
John: Your son, Saxon, plants a beautiful garden each year.
Jim: Yes, we enjoy having a garden. When I retired, I decided we needed bees for pollination. I attended “bee school.” We’ve been in the honeybee business for the last three years or so.
Investing in Bees for Pollination
John: Have you harvested honey?
Jim: Yes, indeed. Our four bee hives yield around 50 gallons of honey per year.
John: Do you have a beekeeper man, or are “you the man”?
Jim: I’m the man with my son Saxon.
John: Do you have to put on a big hazmat-type suit?
Jim: Yes. However, the secret is to leave the bees alone. Except during the spring, you must open the box to see if they’re overcrowded. When they reach about 50,000, the queen bee will take half the hive and find another place to live. The remaining bees will find another queen cell. If you give them another box to work on, they might not leave.
July is a good time to remove the honey, ensuring they have plenty of time over the last part of the summer and fall to produce more honey. And, of course, the pollen becomes protein for the bees. We get to October and still have something flowering on the farm.
John: I know that’s been fun, rewarding, and a good learning experience. I am sure that your grandchildren enjoy the honey bee project.
Jim: The most significant lesson was when we first bought the land, a commercial beekeeper came to us and offered us four quarts of honey a year if we let him put two hives on our property.
For 15 to 20 years, we had persimmon, crabapple, and plum trees. The trees were so full of fruit the limbs were almost breaking off. Unfortunately, the beekeeper left the business, taking his hives with him. As a result, the trees bore only half the fruit for the next couple of years, making us realize the importance of pollination rather than just honey production.
That was a big lesson for me and my family in the importance of bees in land management.
As we conclude part one of my captivating interview with Jim Main, I am in awe of his 30-year journey in land management in Alabama. His dedication and vision have transformed a piece of land into a thriving investment property and a cherished family farm. Jim’s story is an inspiring example of foresight, dedication, and the rewards of wise real estate investments.
Stay tuned for part two, where Jim will share his strategies for wildlife management, including hogs, deer, ducks, and fish.
Take time this week to enjoy Alabama’s outdoors,
Learn more about buying land in Alabama by reading “Prepare to Buy Land in Alabama.”