When the smell of fresh-popped corn wafts through the air, mouths start watering.

It’s a reaction one Madison County, Ala., company is proud to be at least partially responsible for. 

Heart of Dixie Popcorn and Supply,located just off Moore’s Mill Road in Huntsville, is a one-stop carnival food shop for individual consumers, schools and businesses.

The 10 acres adjacent to the building are planted in the namesake’s crop, and a winding driveway paves the way past the fields to the front entrance. Once inside, visitors are welcomed by a red and white checkerboard floor, a long hallway filled with family photos, a mirrored showroom stocked with equipment and an intoxicating aroma.

The atmosphere is intentional, said Heart of Dixie’s Ianni Nicolaou, who married into the family-owned business earlier this year and handles the company’s website and marketing efforts.

 “We want people to walk in and immediately feel this is a place where fun happens,” said Nicolaou, 27, whose wife, Haley, was raised on the farm that grows Heart of Dixie’spopcorn. “If it’s something you find at a fair or carnival, it’s something you can buy here to recreate the experience.”

Heart of Dixie’sshowroom is unique in its own right, but the company’s growth into a successful supplier of fun foods began where other stories about food do — the farm.

Former Madison County Farmers Federation President Buddy Darwin planted the seeds of Alabama’s only popcorn farm nearly 35 years ago on a few acres of his family’s Pine Lawn Farms property, which was established in 1817.

Darwin’s inaugural popcorn planting was more of a test to see if it would work in the area’s well-drained soil. Since most of the popcorn consumed in the U.S. is grown in the Midwest, Darwin said he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he jokes things seem to have worked out OK so far.

“With the first crop, I went nearly door-to-door selling it, telling people it’d be the best popcorn they ever ate. I just had a feeling it would be,” said Darwin, 75, a lifelong farmer. “Turns out, it was.”

Described by his family as a ‘real wheeler-and-dealer,’ Darwin realized the potential in expanding his product line early in the company’s history. As customer requests grew, so did the business.