Ora Scruggs McCoy
The story of Scruggs Farm may begin with the Civil War, but it definitely doesn’t end there. Located just a few miles from where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union counterpart Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the Appomattox, Virginia, property is tied to a family legacy stretching back six generations.
Ora Scruggs McCoy has strong ties to the land and an agricultural heritage built on the “40 acres and a mule” that newly freed slaves were promised to begin their transitions into lives as independent farmers. The family added parcels over the years to expand its holdings to more than 300 acres by the time of her father’s death. When much of that land was subsequently sold or inherited by other relatives, the story could have taken a much different turn. However, McCoy patiently worked with her late husband Edward and son Edward Jr. to buy back all but 13 acres of the original homestead, which includes the 40 acres deeded to her great-grandparents Daniel and Phoebe Scruggs.
The family’s commitment to conservation is very much tied to preserving its land for the next generation. The operation transitioned from crops to cattle in the 1980s and now includes about 200 head on three different farm sites. As the McCoys expanded their herd, water quality and quantity became a significant resource concern. The Robert E. Lee Soil and Water Conservation District helped them implement rotational grazing with fencing and an alternative watering system tied into springs on the property.
With assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field office in Rustburg, they also developed a conservation plan for the farm’s 200 wooded acres as part of a long-term strategy to grow the farm and make it sustainable. The family will receive payments through the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program for practices that will enhance the health and productivity of their forestland and provide food and cover for wildlife.
Off the farm, McCoy is one of Appomattox’s best-known residents. In 1975, she became the first African American and the first woman to hold the position of county postmaster. She’s been the pianist at three local churches and serves on the board of the Carver-Price Legacy Museum, which emphasizes local African American heritage in an area where “history” sometimes seems to start and stop with Grant and Lee. Former Virginia governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine appointed her to four-year terms (2004–2012) on the state Department of Historic Resources’ advisory board.
Giving back is a big part of McCoy’s heritage. She grew up watching her father raise extra produce to help those in need and now hosts an annual picnic where as many as 300 to 400 of her neighbors can come out and enjoy the property.
Inside the farmhouse, a Scruggs/McCoy “wall of fame” highlights the accomplishments of various family members, many of whom were farmers. It’s also a testament to the tenacity of a woman determined to keep family close as younger members write the next chapters of the story.
Selected by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service — Virginia Dr. Edwin Martinez Martinez