“It’s in my blood,” says Cynthiana farmer Ben Clifford, as he walks back from his barn from feeding the cattle.
Six generations of farming course through his veins as he operates Clifford Farms with his son, Lincoln, 25. Ben lives with his wife, Jane, and their son, Lincoln, on 450 acres of farm land and tends another 1200 acres of rented land; their daughter, Shelby, teaches agriculture at a nearby high school. The family raises and breeds cattle, tobacco, soybeans and corn. Ben traces his lineage to Harrison County's tobacco farms for centuries, with the crop providing “guaranteed profits” in the past.
With health education in the 1990s steering people away from tobacco, farmers’ tobacco allotments have been cut. Farmers had to make a decision––stay or leave. Many full time farmers opted for jobs in the public sector, some began planting new crops and others sold off their land altogether.
Available Harrison County land continues to be bought up by out-of-towners for “hobby” farming or used for rental homes or for hunting. Ben feels a sense of pride in still tending the farm.
When Ben’s father unexpectedly passed away in the early 2000’s, all the farm responsibilities fell into Ben’s lap. With hundreds of acres to tend by himself, something had to give.
Ben decided to sell off the sheep and then “accidentally fell into the tree business,” he says. With Lincoln tending the cattle and farming full time, Ben mostly works on his tree-trimming business but still helps with the farm work.
Farming costs continue to rise -- health insurance alone is now $18,000 a year, Ben says. "You’ve got to do things that make you money," he says. "If I was independently wealthy, I probably wouldn’t be doing the tree cutting business anymore. On the other side of that, an element of society counts on me. There aren’t that many people that do tree work.”
Lincoln also finds his work rewarding. “There’s a sense of pride in growing tobacco because not many people in Harrison County do it anymore,” he says.