After the harvest: Farm retires from tobacco after 58 years

Published 6:15 am Monday, March 15, 2021

The routinized life of tobacco farmers can be a comfort to those who have grown burley their whole lives: preparing the seedbeds in January, sowing the seeds in February, planting in May, harvesting in September.

Not only did Mary Collier build a life in that familiar cycle of tobacco, she built it with her husband, and eventually, her children.

But after 58 years, Collier has decided to quit raising tobacco.

“In December, when my son asked, ‘What do you think about quitting?’ I said, ‘It sounds like we’re at the point in our lives where we don’t have a choice,'” said the 76-year-old who lost her husband last year.

Hiring workers has become difficult, even though Collier said she employed only four to six workers at a time.

“A lot of our workers have become ill and can’t work anymore,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of people come and go. Some work on their days off. Some tried it and said they didn’t know it would be this hard. Some who came from the unemployment office said they didn’t know they would have to drive so far.”

Growing up in Greenup County, Collier’s family raised tobacco. So did Jim Collier’s family. Both attended one-room schoolhouses and both bright students were double promoted.

“We just lived 2 miles apart, but we went to different schools and we didn’t know each other,” she said.
After he graduated, he served in the U.S. Army in France, returning home in 1961.

“We met at a country store,” she recalled, noting her future husband was four years her senior. “I was on my way to (Wurtland High) school. He saw me and asked somebody to introduce us.”

Collier said it was love at first sight — they dated a year and, after she was out of high school, they married.
“I knew I’d marry that man,” she said. “He said he was ready to get married and settle down.”