My parents have a beautiful view off of their deck in Scott County Kentucky. It overlooks several rolling hills of active fields and each year a different crop is planted. Over the years, we have watched the growth of soy beans, corn, hay, etc. But this year, for the first time, the farm owners decided to plant tobacco. Despite the controversy surrounding this staple of Kentucky farming, we enjoyed watching the different stages of development as the days of summer ticked by. At this point, the growth has slowed way down due to a lack of substantial rain in this part of the county. The plants appear to be stunted, and have started to bloom out way before the normal time. As my mother and I commented on its stunted growth and development, we realized that the farming traditions and experiences we had while growing up had indirectly taught us much about the tobacco growing process. Even though we were never farmers, we grew up visiting or living some of our lives on Kentucky farms. This meant helping to plant it, watching the little plants grow, watching the blooms appear at the top, watching the spray, followed by the turn of yellow leaves which marked the end of the summer season. As we looked at the leaves in her neighboring farm, we knew we were remembering loved ones in our past.
L-R: John, William (Bill) & Lawrence Beyersdoerfer
As it turns out, we also have several other tobacco farmers in our family tree. The family branches we were remembering came from the northern Kentucky region, on my Mother's side. Despite the steep rolling hills that presented severe challenges to farming anything, the farmers in this area embraced the tobacco crop. Within the Pendleton and Bracken Counties, we had family members in the Fliehmann(Fleeman), Beyersdoerfer, Cox and Watts branches that grew tobacco along with other crops. Ironically, we have several photographs from family or neighbor tobacco farmers posing with their crops proudly. Once my father married into the Watts family - a city boy from Cincinnati - his shutterbug tendencies went wild. The result was a wonderful treasure trove of photographs from the late 1960s - 70s that continues to enhance our family story. Regardless of which generation was being photographed, these farmers were very proud of their crops.
Of course, tobacco was not the only crop that provided sustainable income for these Kentucky farmers. With the German branches of our family near Foster Kentucky, their additional crops came in the forms of corn and grapevines. Bringing their Bavarian traditions to Kentucky in the mid-nineteenth centuries meant growing grapes and producing wine to sell in Covington. For our families in the Pendleton County area who were more from English/Irish ancestry, corn and dairy farming were their staples of choice. I hope to post more about the choices these farmers made as our family history collection has much to offer....but for now, tis the season of tobacco.....and despite any ill feelings toward this crop, for many it was just a way to survive. A way of life that is quickly fading.
MSLS-Senior Librarian/Reference Specialist in charge of programming at the Kentucky Historical Society, Co-Editor of KentuckyAncestors.org, President/Co-Founder of Pastology, LLC, and PR Chair of the Harrison County Heritage Council.