From Raising Tobacco to Raising Animals on Pasture: Our Story of Farm, Family and Food
“I've been wandering these rows ... Since I was three years old ... Watching the men I thought were gods ... Turning green leaves into gold”
That’s a line from one of our favorite bands, American Aquarium. The song is “Brightleaf + Burley,” and it’s about what happens to tobacco farms when no one grows tobacco anymore.
Those words hit home for me because that’s what it was like coming to this farm every summer growing up, spending hot days in the fields when four generations got together to cut, spear and hang the tobacco.
That’s when this farm became my favorite place in the world. It’s ultimately what led me to bring my own family here to live decades later. It’s what led to us raising these animals and this food that we’re now able to share with our community.
As far back as I can remember, I’d get in the truck with my dad early on Saturday mornings. We’d meet my uncles and cousins for breakfast at Marie’s Diner in La Plata, and then we’d come to the farm and work in the fields and barns until late in the day. Work like that connects you to the land, to the place and to the people forever.
It’s why, almost 15 years ago, when I met a girl and it started getting serious, I brought her to see the farm even before I brought her to meet my parents. Beth grew up visiting her grandparents’ farm in Virginia, where they raised dairy cows and tobacco. So she understood.
Every year as summer ended, we’d get the last of the tobacco out of the fields and into the barn. We’d finish by working a half-day on Labor Day, then we’d wash up, change into clean clothes and have a big feast to celebrate the end of tobacco season.
Those days are gone now. Some of those men are gone, too. The farm is still here.
“Now the fields, they all lay empty ... Curing barns are growing cold ... All the while another cash crop just begging to be sold”
My great-uncle Joe Posey lived here his entire life. He had reached retirement age when the state tobacco buyout came in 2000. Like most every farmer in Southern Maryland, he took the deal, and we hung up our tobacco knives and spears.
We all still came to the farm for holidays or hunting season or just to visit. But a big part of the farm experience had changed forever.
Uncle Joe passed away in 2014. My family renovated the house and moved here in 2016.
The house was more full than it had been in years, but something was missing. That line in the song about another cash crop begging to be sold is actually suggesting saving tobacco farms by growing cannabis in the old tobacco fields.
We figured that growing chicken and bacon and eggs works just fine, too.
Of course, you can raise all those animals in barns — and a lot of farms do. But we want to use the land and improve the land, as well as the soil beneath it.
So we’re raising all of our animals on pasture because not only is it better for the land, it’s better for the animals. They’re happier and healthier. It leads to healthier, more nourishing food that we can give to our family and that you can give to yours. It brings us closer to our community.
And it brings us closer to our family.
We lost my dad this spring, and we miss him every day. But he was with us to get it all started, supporting us in any way he could. He’s still with us, the voice I hear in my head whenever I’m trying to figure out how to solve a particular problem.
I know he’s looking down and smiling to see his two grandchildren growing up on the farm, making their own memories on this land along with their cousins and aunts and uncles. I know he’s happy to see new traditions growing on the farm.