Homegrown -- Owensboro resident uses backyard to raise tobacco

Photo by Alan Warren, Messenger-Inquirer | awarren@messenger-inquirer.com Joe Ling hangs a stick of tobacco on a tobacco frame to dry that was cut from a 1/8th-acre crop grown next to his house in Owensboro.

Throughout Daviess County, barns are filled with hanging tobacco for curing to take place.

But on a used tobacco frame in a backyard of the 2000 block of West Third Street inside the city limits of Owensboro, the burley and dark varieties are curing just the same.

After Joe Ling was given 186 burley and eight dark tobacco plants this past spring, he decided to forgo his traditional vegetable garden in favor of a tobacco patch.

Ling, 62, said he was one of 10 children who grew up raising 15 acres of tobacco on his family's Whitesville farm but that it had been decades since he tried his hand at the crop.

"I left the farm in 1985," said Ling, who's lived on West Third Street for 33 years. "I really just wanted to see if I could grow it again. And I think my daddy would be proud of this crop."

After leaving the farm, Ling pursued a different trade. He now repairs auto bodies for a living.

But his next-door neighbor generously gave up a portion of his backyard to allow Ling to revisit the skill he learned as a youth.

Ling planted the tobacco on about 1/8 of an acre around the first of May and harvested it on Sept. 8.

"People thought I was crazy growing tobacco in the city," Ling said. "But the question I always got was, 'What are you going to do with it?' "

At first, Ling wasn't sure. He purchased for $50 the tobacco frame, which he painted, and pulled it home despite it having a shredded tire.

Ling said he spent another $30 on fertilizer, tilled the ground, hoed the weeds occasionally and left the rest up to chance.

"I have $80 and my time invested," Ling said. "Other than fertilizer and suckering them, I used no chemicals or pesticides."

If all goes well, Ling has figured out where his tobacco will go after it cures for about a month.

Ling said he has a buyer in Indiana who grows tobacco and has agreed to take Ling's crop off his hands for about half the normal poundage rate regular tobacco farmers receive. Depending on the weight, condition other and factors, tobacco can sell between $1.50 and $2 per pound at market price.

"After I bale it, I figure I'll have about 300 pounds," Ling said. "That's not bad for backyard tobacco."

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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