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From the editor | Spring 2023

BY MOLLY HAINES RIDDLE

Sweet Owen Editor


The photo you see to the right still gives me pause, even after all these years. It was the last year my family raised tobacco; torrential rains flooded most of the crop, and the ever-elusive “Insurance Man” requested photographic evidence of the destruction. Now, I was following in my Daddy’s deep boot imprints with my point-and-shoot camera, snapping away at the once-healthy plants that had dwindled to near nothingness.

A decade-plus later, the memory stands out as one of the most profound from my early adulthood. For the first time, I witnessed the ruination of my family’s hard work through no fault of ours or anyone else, and it stung. That something as solid and sturdy as a crop of Burley tobacco—a crop I knew our family depended on—could be demolished by one swift act of nature seemed a cruel joke.

As time wore on, there was a lot of talk about “pounds” and “quotas,” things that meant little to me but would be the deciding factors in my and Mama’s retirement from the tobacco setter. If I learned anything that year, it’s that of life’s many gambles, farming may be the greatest.

That was over a decade ago, and to this day, my heart’s desire to be in the stripping room pulling lugs from the stalk, surrounded by family—Mama singing, my brother bellyaching, and Daddy taking it all in—is so great I sometimes swear I can smell the dried leaves and feel the plant’s black gum between my fingertips.

I think it was Wendell Berry who once wrote, “The soil is the great connector of our lives.” If anything ever truly connected me to my family more than the bloodline itself, it was those moments spent in the barn or field working alongside those I cherish most.

This issue of Sweet Owen reflects a sort of melancholic nostalgia that I and many others across the rural landscape will likely cling to for the remainder of their years. I wanted to highlight Owen County’s rich farming heritage and prove that these things, albeit vastly different in 2023, still matter.

The restoration of a farm through the use of local resources. Neighbors helping neighbors, unafraid to get their hands dirty. An environmentally conscious business with a focus on customer service. A 961-acre Owen County farm nearing the 70-year mark of impacts felt nationwide. A World War II veteran who could’ve made a career of the military but opted instead to come home and continue his family’s farming legacy.

As inconsequential as these topics might seem to some, I hope those folks will put down this edition of Sweet Owen with a better understanding and respect of what can only be described as a way of life. A way of life that’s still more prevalent across the commonwealth today than some may realize.

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