To the point week of 3-26-09

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THIS WEEK THERE ARE TWO members of the Switzerland County agriculture community being honored by the Soil and Water Conservation District. Bruce Hutcherson is being honored for his lifetime of commitment to farming; while Dan Andrew is being honored for his commitment to using new innovations to not only raise more and better crops; but also to leave the earth a little better than we found it by using conservation techniques.

Last week, Tom Crabtree was featured as he continues to make strides toward returning to full health. He is an icon in this community after years of running the U.S. Shoe plant in Vevay.

It all got me thinking.

About farming and shoes.

When I moved here in May of 1984 – almost 25 years ago – there wasn’t much to Switzerland County. The only things that anyone really pointed to was tobacco farmers and the shoe factory. Yes, Randall-Textron was still here at that point, as was Plastic Moldings Corporation out at East Enterprise; but neither of those plants had the same sense of community that people had for the shoe factory.

Farmers were raising various crops and breeds of livestock, but Switzerland County was known for its tobacco production, as bigger producers raised thousands of pounds; while nearly every family who lived in the country and had some “base” raised a family patch of burley.

It was like growing Christmas money, and everyone played a part in it.

So about 25 years ago the commerce of this county turned in large part of tobacco and shoes.

Who would have ever thought that – almost 25 years later – both would be afterthoughts now?

The shoe factory and its jobs – nearly 350 at the height of production running three shifts – are a distant memory; and although there are still tobacco producers in Switzerland County, burley doesn’t swing a “big stick” across the county as it once did.

Ask anyone back in 1984 what this county would be like if the tobacco program went away and the shoe factory left; and most would have told you that Vevay and other communities in the county would have been ghost towns.

After all, we had those jobs and still saw unemployment hover around 15-percent most months.

Now, the shoe factory’s gone; as is Randall and PMC. The tobacco program is eliminated and warehouses across the river have been boarded up as producers now negotiate directly with the companies.

Granted, Belterra has filled a huge hole in the employment situation here, and continues to provide job opportunities to a wide range of residents, from college kids home for the summer to older people looking to subsidize their retirements to families who are bringing home the primary income for the family.

But would you have ever thought – EVER – that Switzerland County would be prospering as it is without shoes and tobacco?

I would have told you that you were crazy, and I haven’t lived here all my life.

Back then we didn’t know that steel mills would locate across the river; and that better roads would make commuting to work “in the city” much easier.

We have been able to maintain the quality of life that we want to have here in Switzerland County, while at the same time we have been able to see our residents find jobs that have allowed them to stay here.

When my oldest daughter was in middle school, she used to talk of careers and what she wanted to do with her life. Switzerland County was always included in those dreams, and I remember thinking that if those dreams were to come true, living in this county wouldn’t be a part of it.

I’m not sure that’s true anymore.

Our young people are going off and getting trained and educated, and then they’re returning here to find work and raise a family.

It’s a wonderful circle that makes this community of friends a very special place.

Even without tobacco and shoes.