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Last tobacco to be sold at fair today

Category eliminated as participation dropped

ROME TOWNSHIP — It’s the end of an era.

For decades, 4-H members have cultivated tobacco and sold their crops at auction at the Lawrence County Fair.

However, as times change and the participation in the practice has dwindled, the market tobacco category is being eliminated from the fair after this year.

Judging for the handful of tobacco projects took place at Saturday’s pre-fair events and Bailey Fuller, 10, of Gingham and Denim 4-H Club, was named grand champion for her hand.

Wyatt Stallo took third place.

Coming in as reserve champion was Griffin Fuller, the 2017 and 2015 grand champion and 2016 reserve champion in the category.

Another family that has taken part in the tobacco category for a long time is the Stallos.

Wyatt Stallo was named grand champion in 2016, with Gracie Stallo coming in third that year.

Their mother, Hillary Stallo, said her family has been raising tobacco for 27 years, with all but two of those years being commercial.

“We’ve always brought tobacco to the fair, every year, since I was a small child,” she said.

While several factors, such as changing attitudes toward the product, have been a factor in its decline, its decline at the fair is rooted in the federal tobacco buyout.

“It used to be a major cash crop in Lawrence County,” Hillary Stallo said. “But after the buyout, you have to have a contract with a buyer.”

She said, with no commercial buyer, families do not want to put the hours of time and work to raise the crop, with no chance of purchase.

“It’s still a legal crop in Lawrence County,” Hillary said. “There’s just no base of production anymore.”

This year, there were only four tobacco projects entered at the fair.

“You use to have 15 or 16, always,” Hillary’s mother, Jeri Stallo, said.

“Sometimes as many as 21,” Hillary said.

This year’s hands of tobacco will go up for auction today, preceding the small animal auction at the fair.

As fourth place in this year’s competition, Grace Stallo’s hand of tobacco will be among those going up for auction, making it the last ever in the fair’s history.

Grace, of Greasy Ridge Gang 4-H Club, is a student at Symmes Valley and has been taking part in the fair for six years, since she was a Cloverbud and presenting 4-H projects for three years.

For the Stallos and others, it will be a bittersweet moment, seeing a tradition at the fair come to an end.

“I’ve raised it my whole life,” Hillary said. “It’s sad.”

The small market animal and tobacco sale will take place at 2 p.m. today.