- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 25, 2002

PRINCE FREDERICK, Md. (AP) Tall stands of broad-leafed tobacco trees once covered Bob Scrivener's Prince Frederick farm. Growing tobacco was a family agricultural tradition for close to 100 years.
But now white pines and Douglas firs grow where tobacco once did, and instead of harvesting his crop in the sweltering summer, Mr. Scrivener's big time of the year is the dead of winter.
Mr. Scrivener sells Christmas trees. He is the only Southern Maryland farmer who has converted tobacco fields into a tree farm.
Maryland has tried to ease tobacco farmers out of tobacco through an extensive buyout program funded in part by the state's share of settlement money from tobacco companies. Most in Southern Maryland have stopped 712 farmers have given up tobacco in return for state money, according to Christine Bergmark of the Tri-County Council, the organization that oversees the buyout program.
The state encouraged farmers to switch to other crops, and some have taken up growing flowers, pumpkins and even grapes for wine. But Mr. Scrivener is alone in growing Christmas trees, Miss Bergmark said.
Mr. Scrivener wasn't eligible for the buyout, because growers had to be raising tobacco in 1998, which was after he gave it up. He became a Christmas-tree farmer in 1995, but this is the first year that the trees were big enough to sell.
Giving up tobacco again wasn't easy for Mr. Scrivener. His farm has been in the family since 1903, when his great-grandfather bought it. Mr. Scrivener has held on to 58 acres of the original 188-acre tract.
"Tobacco it gets in your blood," Mr. Scrivener said. "When we got married in '65, most everybody who lived on a family farm raised some tobacco. They just felt like they had to keep their hands in tobacco. And through the years, it just started dropping out."
Mr. Scrivener first stopped growing tobacco in 1989, adding on to his house so that his wife, Carol Ann, could open a day care facility to replace some lost income from tobacco. He raised cattle and grew some hay, but had a hard time making money off a small cattle farm. He grew tobacco again for a few more years, but quickly dropped it again.
"The market was so erratic," he said. "Maryland tobacco was primarily bought by foreign buyers. When they got their quota they stopped bidding on it."
He got the idea to grow Christmas trees from a farmer friend who was raising them in Anne Arundel County. The drought hurt the development of seedlings he planted this year, but Mr. Scrivener still has about 2,400 trees growing on about two acres.
Mr. Scrivener is partial to the Douglas fir, because its branches, he said, are stiffer than those of the white pine, allowing buyers to hang heavier ornaments.
He probably won't get rich, but Mr. Scrivener says growing Christmas trees is in many ways better than farming tobacco.
"It's definitely a friendlier thing, for sure. And it gives you some pride," he said. "Some people take some pride picking out the perfect tree. When you see a satisfied customer, it's a good feeling."


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