By Taylor Parrish
NC Department of Agriculture
They say if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life. Conner Stonbach, owner of Stonbach Farms in Mitchell County, has loved his life in farming and agriculture since day one. In fact, he started farming part of his family’s land in the fifth grade! “I got my love of agriculture from my grandma because she was the hardest working woman I ever knew, despite struggling with Multiple sclerosis,” Conner said, “my dad started getting ready for me to farm part of our land when I was in the fifth grade, and since then I have taken great pride in working hard in agriculture.”
Today, Conner and his family are most well-known for their five acres of burley tobacco. The harvesting process is a bit different for burley tobacco than it is for flue-cured, Conner explained. “After harvest, our tobacco bakes in the sun for two to six days, depending on the weather, before it is taken into the barn and spread out on tiers,” he said, “after curing for four to six weeks in the barn it is taken to be graded for quality.” The darker the tobacco tips are the higher quality it will be deemed.
In addition to tobacco, the Stonbaches also grow potatoes, sweet corn, hemp and raise beef cows. “The tobacco is a huge source of pride and historical significance for us,” Conner said, “because not only was it what this state was built on, but it changed the way of life for many families, including mine.” Conner’s dad is the last farmer in Mitchell county still growing burley tobacco and when Conner was in high school he enjoyed educating his fellow classmates on their tobacco because he was the only student who had ever grown it.
A typical day on the farm depends on the season, but often involves a lot of spraying, suckering and working in the fields. “It can be a tough industry because it relies heavily on the market and all comes down to the 30 or 60 minutes of the auction,” Conner said, “but seeing buyers come through and purchase your product is the best feeling in the world.” Although Conner and his family often sell to the “middle-man”, most of their products are said to end up with Phillip Morris or RJ Reynolds for cigarette filler.
The Stonbach family encourages supporting local businesses because it builds a stronger community and ties the money into our local economy. “When you support local you are possibly keeping a neighbor or friend in business,” Conner said.
In the future, Conner and his family hope to expand the farm into other commodities, including hemp, but always keep burley tobacco in the family tradition and heritage. “The significance tobacco has played in the life of my family and our state heritage as a whole is huge,” he said, “it is important to our past and should always be kept in our future.”
When he gets a spare moment away from the farm you can find Conner either fly-fishing in the western part of the country or enjoying other outdoor activities such as camping, hiking or kayaking.