|Two Thousand, Two Thousand, Give Me Two Thousand-One:
Maryland Tobacco Goes to Market
photo by Connie Darago
The end of a 350-year tradition: With tobacco on hard times, many Maryland tobacco farmers are looking at their last sotweed auction.
The farmers are calling it beautiful, perfect, the best crop to come to market in 10 years. That's ironic, for this crop signals the end of a 350-year tradition in Southern Maryland. It is the end of raising what's been called Maryland's living link to history, tobacco.
As flat-bed trucks and horse-drawn Amish wagons delivered the millennium tobacco crops to Southern Maryland's five tobacco auction houses this week, gloom - and with it a sense of doom - filled the air.
Drizzle and heavy gray clouds helped carry the mood as the first day of the auction opened March 13 at the Hughesville Tobacco Warehouse.
Tobacco farming has fallen on hard times nationwide. Bad publicity, a poor public health image and a shortage of workers all have cut deeply into farmers' profits. Nowhere is that more evident than Southern Maryland, where farmers once planted over 50,000 acres and now plant less than 6,000 acres. They're expected to bring only nine million pounds to market this year. That's a far cry from 40 million pounds just 20 years ago.
Facing this grim reality, farmers are bailing. They're forswearing ever again growing Maryland's crop of choice for generations, Type 32 tobacco, the same sotweed grown by their ancestors and highly desired by European buyers. Even as the auctions return, Maryland tobacco farmers are signing up to accept the state's buy-out offer of $1 per pound for the next 10 years based on their average annual production from 1996 to 1998. [See "Maryland Tobacco Futures, Vol. VIII, No. 13: March 30-April 5, 2001.]
"When you add everything into the equation, tobacco farming is just about gone in Maryland," said Agriculture Secretary Hagner Mister, himself a former Calvert County tobacco farmer.
But it's hard to get a good man down, and even harder to keep him there.
Anxious farmers gathered near their crops as the market opened, waiting for the buyers, graders and auctioneer to set the price. Some were smoking sotweed, some chewing; others leaned on the fruit of their labor, talking of buyouts and future plans.
Tobacco was everywhere, just over a million pounds proudly displayed in rows four-feet high, neatly stacked burdens and bales just as it has been for the last 62 years at the Hughesville Tobacco Warehouse.
"Bidder, bidder, bidder. Eighty gimme 90, 80 gimme 90, two-two," chanted the auctioneer as he traveled up and down the rows of Southern Maryland's finest. The first tobacco went for $2.10, but quickly drops to $1.80, then $1.40.
"I'm glad my wife works for the government," said ex-tobacco farmer Walter Nelson as he listened to the prices fall. Nelson once raised 80 acres of tobacco with his three brothers but took the buyout last year. "We'd starve to death on our tobacco earnings," he said.
Tobacco is a never-ending job. It takes about 225 man-hours to produce one acre from seedbed to auction. Last year's crop average was $1.66 per pound.
"Working 365 days a year for $9,000 just isn't worth it," said St. Mary's farmer Gary Adams. "I'm glad I got out."
Getting out is serious. When a farmer signs the buyout, he agrees to never again raise tobacco. That includes helping anyone else in any shape or form.
"I guess that way they'll eventually force everyone to stop growing," said Nelson.
Maybe that's the plan, but rumors have it that Big Tobacco may soon seek direct buying contracts.
"We've had some interest shown by Phillip Morris on contract buying," explained Southern Maryland Tobacco Board advisor Gary Hodge, "But that's unlikely to happen before April. We need to get through the market, have a positive vote on the governor's proposed legislation, and see how many of the 250 unreturned applications come through."
Out of the 700 farmers who submitted applications, 450 have signed contracts. That accounts for half of the tobacco now grown.
Will there be enough tobacco for a market next year?
"We'll need at least one market next year," said Hodge, "but not five warehouses."
So as Francis Mattingly's St. Mary's crop of the thin, crinkled, copper-brown leaves with occasional green strips brings $2, the sweet scent of tobacco fills the air and another market opens, Maryland's living link to history quietly fades away.
Stop Now, Thief! Once Is Enough
One of Conovers Passionate Portraits. Of the stolen piece, no photo exists.
"Oooohhhh! You've been stolen!" That's how Skip Conover's wife, Debbi McGlauflin, reacted with glee and mirth on hearing the news that one of the artist's paintings had been stolen in late February from the wall of the men's room at 49 West, the artsy coffeehouse, winebar and gallery in Annapolis.
"This puts me in the same league as Vincent Van Gogh and Rembrandt van Rijn," said the artist, with a twinkle in his eye. "An artist always hopes to evoke an emotion in his audience, so imagine the emotion evoked in someone who steals a piece just to possess it.
"Brian and I always knew that a small painting might be stolen from one of the restrooms," Conover said, describing an earlier conversation with 49 West owner and proprietor Brian Cahalan. "But I told him, 'Hey, I would be honored! It would mean that I have arrived as an artist.'"
49 West has long promoted emerging artists. Cahalan and his wife, Sarah, present a new exhibition of emerging and established area artists every month, with an opening party on the first Sunday of each show. "We have a waiting list more than four years long for exhibitions," said Cahalan.
Undaunted by the long waiting time to get a 49 West exhibition, Conover noticed that the walls of the restrooms were always bare. "I have art I would be happy to show in your restrooms," Conover told Cahalan some six months ago. Since then, the hallowed walls have been his private gallery for his slightly risqué, somewhat suggestive head-and-shoulders images of men and women, which he styles "Passionate Portraits." One piece, "Spinnaker Sunset," does not fall directly into the genre, but Conover insists it is a passionate portrait in a town where sailing is the second passion of many and the first passion of some.
"I know my work is sometimes on the edge of propriety," said Conover, "so Brian and I have a pact that if I have any doubt about a new piece, I ask him before putting it up. He's rejected a few, but by and large he's given me carte blanche to decorate the walls.
One of Conover's pieces, "The Kiss" at three by four feet, covers a whole wall of the men's room. "At least that piece will be a little harder to lift unobtrusively," says Conover.
"I'm a long way from "Efflorescence," he says, referring to the most beautiful painting he has ever seen, a nude by his teacher, Maryland Hall artist-in-residence John Ebersberger. "But most of my friends think I've come a long way."
Conover is president of CBay Systems, Ltd., a medical transcription firm with offices across the street from 49 West. He started painting as an avocation late in his career, with lessons at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.
One theft may help make an artist's reputation, but one is enough. Cahalan is taking steps to discourage further thefts. Other galleries prosecute the first time.
Save Your School
No, you won't be an instant millionaire. Ed McMahon and Dick Clark won't show up at your front door in a minivan to deliver your prize. But winning this contest will place you in the spotlight nonetheless. You'll help preserve memories that live on in special places, where Americans from all walks of life have learned, invented, prayed and created.
Sound like a contest worth looking into?
That's just what the National Historic Trust hopes many will do in their first-ever National Historic Preservation Week Poster Contest this month.
"Every historic school in the country has a chance to become famous," says Richard Moe, part-time Calvert countian and president of the National Trust, which is dedicated to protecting the irreplaceable by education and advocacy to save America's diverse historic places and revitalize communities. "Whether the school you enter is endangered or has already been saved, by entering the contest you're giving it a chance."
To get that chance, you'll create a poster for this year's preservation week, May 13-19. The theme is Restore, Renew, Rediscover Your Historic Neighborhood Schools! Three winners will join in the week-long celebration as citizens nationwide hold alumni reunions, career days, pageants, workshops, clean-up days, raffles, re-enactments and home and garden tours.
This chance may be the last for some schools. Facing inadequate maintenance budgets, misguided education department policies and consolidation into mega-schools, historic schools are being abandoned at what the Trust calls "an alarming rate." In 2000, neighborhood schools made the National Trust's list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
Old schools can be restored and put back to work, the Trust believes, for a new generation of students. Young people can walk to class, enjoy a smaller more intimate facility, be surrounded by distinctive design and be more closely connected with the community. Such schools are not only architectural landmarks but the anchors around which neighborhoods form and grow.
Bay Country's historic schools number in the double digits, with Anne Arundel County boasting 25 schools and Calvert County 19.
"We have an abundance of historic schools in Anne Arundel County," says historic sites planner Donna Ware. "Annapolis Free School, a stone structure constructed in 1725, is the oldest. It now operates as a museum."
Other historic schools such as Millersville and Pasadena Consolidated Schools are used as instructional storage centers. The old Nutwell School, an 1889 one-room school, is part of an emerging restored village at Herrington Harbour North, in Tracys Landing. The Shady Side School, a combination of two one-room schools, one moved from Churchton, was long used as a senior center. It will soon go full circle with a Head-Start program.
Galesville's historic school is one of the county's 10 Rosenwald schools. Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears and Roebuck from 1917 to 1932, built 4,977 schools in 15 Southern states by 1928. That was about one-third of the nation's black schools.
"It's wonderful to see these treasured schools being used," says Anne Arundel architectural historian Sherri Marsh. "Rosenwald schools were considered state-of-the-art facilities even in the 1920s."
In Calvert, county historian Jenny Plummer notes that "several of our historic schools are still used. Hunting Creek annex, Calvert Middle and Appeal hold classes daily."
Other Calvert historic schools have found new tenants. Solomons School doubles as a library and administration office for the Calvert Marine Museum. Old Prince Frederick high school is a Masonic lodge, while the restored one-room school on Broomes Island welcomes visitors as a reminder of simpler schools past.
"At the heart of every American community is the neighborhood school," says Moe. "In this age of sprawl, it's more important than ever to rediscover the role historic neighborhood schools play in towns and cities across the nation. If your school is endangered, fight to save it."
Thinking of entering your neighborhood anchor? There are a few basics you should consider.
Schools must be at least 50 years old, have architectural merit, be a current educational facility and serve as a community anchor.
Your poster must feature the legend: "Restore, Renew, Rediscover Your Historic Neighborhood Schools! National Historic Preservation Week 2001, May 13-19, 2001" and "National Trust for Historic Preservation." Entries are due by March 31.
Information? Historic Trust for Historic Preservation: 202/588-6107
Update: Talent Shone Bright in Friendship
Outside the February night was cold and rainy, inside Carter's United Methodist Church, it was friendly and warm. People of all ages and all parts of Chesapeake Country had come together in Friendship to enjoy a special show and to lend a helping hand.
To raise money for 19-month-old Samuel Johnson, who suffers from brittle bone disease and must travel to Canada for treatment, Carter's Youth Group had organized a talent show. By the end of the entertaining evening, over $1,500 had been raised to help cover Samuel's medical expenses.
"The kids did a great job. They opened their hearts and truly wanted to do this to help Samuel" said Gloria Little, director of Carter's youth choir.
In the spotlight were a variety of singers and musicians, a storyteller and a puppeteer. The diversity of acts pulled in the audience, and by the end of the night everyone was clapping, laughing and singing. "It was pretty cool, and everyone was very welcoming, I really enjoyed the show," said Eric Smith of Fairhaven.
As the crowd of 100 filed out, jubilation reigned. Smiles were big and friendships begun, for together we had made a difference.
Putting a Stamp on MD Bears
What ducks are to Chesapeake Country, bear are to western Maryland. Each is its region's totem animal, and humans gain inspiration from drawing and possessing effigies of each. So if you're an artist, get out your pens. It's the season for drawing not only Maryland's duck stamps but also its bear stamps.
A number of black bears call Maryland home again. Before the 20th century, black bears lived in western Maryland. But by the 1970s, black bears were just about gone in Maryland. But as the habitat in the western Maryland mountains improved - with a drop in logging and restoration of wetlands - bears moved back.
The bears are happy with their reclaimed home, but farmers aren't happy with their new neighbors. Nobody has much bad to say about a duck, but when a bear comes calling, you'll hear a lot of bad words.
What makes a black bear so unwelcome?
Biologist Steve Bitner gives some insight. "Black bears like plants best but will eat almost anything." Their appetites spell disaster for farmers. Bears damage crops, beehives and livestock. While foraging, they destroy things outside nearby houses," he explained. "Farmers are frustrated. They can't shoot the bears, and chasing them with dogs doesn't work."
Farmers, Bitner said, need to be compensated.
What exactly does a bear stamp do? Money from the purchase of the $5 stamp goes to farmers as compensation for bear damage. For bear lovers, the artful stamps help assure habitat conservation for the black bear population
But there will be no stamps unless artists get to work. All types of media are accepted. The subject, the black bear, must have a horizontal orientation on plain white paper and must be seven inches high by 10 inches wide. The deadline for submissions is March 23.
Judges will choose a winner at the Patuxent Wildlife Art Show, April 1. The lucky artist will receive prestige and pubilicity while raising public awareness and showing respect for Maryland farmers.
Information? DNR's Mary Goldie: 410/260-8546; or www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/bbcp.html.
Way Downstream ...
In Virginia, new census figures make us glad we live in Maryland. Northern Virginia's growth is, quite possibly, out of control, with Loudon County nearly doubling in size since 1990. Stafford County (51 percent) and Prince William County (30 percent) also showed record growth ...
In Europe, Mad Cow Disease is changing eating habits in weird ways. How weird? In Germany alone, demand for crocodile has soared to 15 tons a month, a boon to crocodile farmers in Thailand who had been selling their reptilian delights mainly to China ...
Our Creature Feature comes from St. Louis, where Linda Horner had a frightening encounter with a hard-hearted duck. Horner was being transported by helicopter in the wee hours for a heart transplant when a duck crashed through the windshield. A very cool pilot named Sam Cain managed to land the copter at the hospital despite being slightly injured, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The duck didn't survive, but Horner, 57, was reported to be doing well with her new heart - so well that she referred to her mid-flight intruder as "my good-luck duck."