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Back in Business: Md. Family Rekindles Family Tradition

The Connellys grew three-quarters of an acre of tobacco last year and sold it at the auction in March for $1.50 a pound. Pictured at the auction are, from left: Michael Hawse (Beverly's brother), Beverly Connelly, 6-year-old Branden Connelly, Ralph Connelly (Bruce's father) and Bruce Connelly. (Newsline photo by Jennifer Fu)
By Nick Sekkas
Maryland Newsline
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

CLARKSBURG, Md. - Beverly Connelly and her family last year jumped back into a business that the state has convinced most Maryland farmers to leave.

The Connellys, of Clarksburg, are now the only family in Montgomery County growing tobacco, said David Conrad, tobacco specialist for the Maryland Cooperative Extension.

Most Maryland tobacco farmers stopped growing the crop after the state began paying them to grow alternative crops in 1999.

What pulled the Connellys back in?

“Mainly because of the family tradition,” Connelly said. “We wanted to try and get back into it and reestablish it in our family.”

“We’re doing it more as a hobby than to make a ton of money off of it,” she added. The family broke even this year, she said, and hopes to make a profit next year.

There are only about 150 tobacco farmers left in the state, down from about 1,100 tobacco farmers just 10 years ago, Conrad said.

The Connellys have a long family history in the industry. Their 6-year-old son, Branden, will be the sixth generation in the family to farm tobacco, said Beverly Connelly and her husband, Bruce.
Newsline audio clip: Bruce Connelly discusses how making a living as a tobacco farmer isn't  easy. (Real Media File; 30 seconds)

“Last year I made sure that Branden planted something on the farm,” Bruce Connelly said. “We want to keep the farm going within the family.”

Beverly’s grandfather, John Glaze, started harvesting tobacco in Montgomery County when he was 10 years old. Glaze, 84, and his late brother, Earl, used to raise about 10 acres of tobacco on their farm, situated along Burnt Hill Road.  They stopped raising tobacco in 1986, Glaze said.

“They were getting too old for the day-to-day labor of it,” Beverly said.

“We couldn’t get any help on the farm,” Glaze agreed. “People want to make big wages, and Earl and I were getting up in years.”

Back in those days, Glaze and his family counted on tobacco as their main money crop on the farm despite also raising corn, wheat, hay and cows, he said.

“Ten acres of tobacco is a lot of tobacco,” he  said. On the side, he taught and continues to teach string instruments out of a studio in his basement.

In 1975, Glaze recalls selling his best grades of tobacco at auction for $1.70 a pound -- 20 cents a pound more than the family’s tobacco fetched at the annual auction in Charles County in March.

“There was a greater demand for it then,” Glaze said.  “It’s not the same around here anymore.”

Bruce Connelly grew up on a farm in Boyds, Md. and was inspired to keep his wife’s family tradition alive by trying out tobacco farming, he said.

Bruce, 39, also works four days a week as a gardener at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He focuses his attention on the farm on his days off. 

Beverly, 37, works four to five days a week as a physical science technician in the Dimensional Metrology Group for the NIST. 

Work on the farm is continuous. “Tobacco is a year-round crop,” Bruce said. “As soon as you finish [one crop], you have to start all over again.”

In the spring he said he starts the seeds, in the summer he begins planting, in the fall he harvests, and in the winter he tends the crop as it dries. 

The tobacco must stay in the barn until it is packed, so that it won’t crumble when touched.  It also must be sprayed frequently in order to keep worms from growing on it, Bruce said.

“The ideal weather for storing tobacco is having the temperature in the 40s and light rain. The worst is warm days and cold nights,” Bruce said.

Newsline photo by Nick Sekkas
The Connellys'  tobacco barns in Montgomery County, Md. (Newsline photo by Nick Sekkas)

In terms of labor, Bruce said that he gets a lot of help from his family and from a few close friends who are interested in the attempted rebirth of tobacco farming in Montgomery County.

Beverly, Branden and other family members assist Bruce in any way they can, helping to plant, pick and hang the crop for drying time.

“It’s hard work,” Bruce agreed. “But I’ve been on farms my whole life, and it’s relaxing for me. A 10-hour day on the farm is better than a full day at work” elsewhere, he said.

All three family members attended the March tobacco auction in Hughesville, Md. They sold their crop to the Maryland Tobacco Co. in Farmhill, Va.

“We were actually able to contact [the person] who bought our crop, and we will sell to him directly next year,” Beverly said. The Connellys said they hope the profits will be better with no third party in between. 

The highest bid for a pound of tobacco at this year’s auction was $1.80.

Bruce said he hopes other farmers in the state will continue to grow tobacco, despite state incentives to abandon the crop.

“We want to make it so that the future generations can farm, and they don’t have the restrictions on it,” he said.

 

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