Cultivating a future

Ben Clifford and his family operate Clifford Farms, with hundreds of acres of crops including corn, tobacco, soybeans and cattle. Six generations of Ben's family have farmed and grown tobacco in Harrison County.

“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.

Ben Clifford (pictured far left) holds a photo showing three of the six generations of family on the farm.
An old truck reading "Clifford Farms" sits next to a tobacco barn on the family property. The truck once belonged to Ben's grandfather who tended the tobacco fields before him. With government restrictions on tobacco starting in the 1990's, tobacco is a declining industry and farmer allotments have been greatly reduced.
Ben and his wife, Jane, eat dinner together every night and keep up with local news.
Ben pulls a tarp over his crop of tobacco during a rare October snow flurry. If tobacco gets too moist or is too dry, a company may reject it.
Ben looks out over farm land on his way to feeding the cattle for the day. There are five feeding stops at various family barns on this route.
Ben chainsaws a dead limb off a tree on a home near downtown Cynthiana.
Along with the tree business, Ben picks up odd jobs around town to make a little extra money. Since people around town know he has the truck, he is often asked to work in high and hard-to-reach places. The manager of McDonald's called him to untangle their American and Kentucky flags.
Ben smells tobacco that hangs from the family barn. "If I was a millionaire, I'd absolutely still be a farmer," Ben says.