FREEDOM TWP.: Standing on brown earth on a flat field hundreds of yards from the nearest road, Don Carey is surrounded by tiny plants.
He walks along a three-quarter-acre plot in a desolate spot in this rural township in northeastern Portage County and looks at the thousands of tobacco plants he is growing.
Carey, 49, decided in April, when federal taxes on tobacco skyrocketed, to grow his own.
''I thought it was an April Fools' joke,'' he said of the tax increase that sent taxes on roll-your-own tobacco up 2,153 percent.
There is something ''fundamentally wrong about picking on the smokers all the time,'' said Carey, whose experiment with growing tobacco comes as President Barack Obama last week signed the strongest anti-smoking bill in history. The measure gives the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco for the first time.
A general contractor who lives in Peninsula, Carey has been a cigarette and cigar smoker most of his adult life.
But when April 1 came and he read that taxes on tobacco products increased, he took action.
Carey went on the Internet and found places where he could purchase tobacco seeds.
Within about a week, he had received 40 types of seeds and his life as a tobacco farmer was planted.
''This project is something of an experiment to identify varieties of tobacco suitable for growing in our climate,'' Carey said.
7,000 plants in ground
The tiny seeds, so small they can hardly be seen, grew into plants by mid-June. And when the ground had warmed up, a group of friends helped him put the plants into the ground — 7,000 in all.
The land where his tobacco plants are growing is leased by his sister, who allowed him to put in the tobacco crop.
Since April, Carey has been reading all he can find on tobacco farming.
Under the new tobacco law, Carey is allowed to grow tobacco for his own use, said Siobhan DeLancey, a spokeswoman for the FDA.
It seems that Carey is probably not alone in deciding to experiment with tobacco growing.
David Dugan, Ohio State University extension educator for a 10-county area in southern Ohio, said he began receiving inquiries about planting tobacco around the time the taxes were increased.
''I had several calls back in March and April when that was going on,'' Dugan said. ''People calling me were looking for where they could buy tobacco plants and seeds.''
Dugan said it is no easy task to grow tobacco.
''He has a real adventure in front of him,'' Dugan said of Carey.
Three-quarters of an acre of tobacco, he said, could ultimately yield up to 2,000 pounds of tobacco.
''If the crop grows well, he is going to need a lot of space to hang this stuff to get it to cure and then a lot of space to store it once it is stripped,'' he said.
Curing tobacco is a process that depends on the weather, he said. ''You don't want it to dry too fast,'' he said.
There has to be just the right amount of humidity in the curing process that results in a leaf that has the right color and quality. Plus, he said, you have to watch out for insects and rodents when storing it.
Tobacco production in Ohio has fallen off as demand for the product has dropped, Dugan said.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture reports that in 2006, there were 3,500 acres of tobacco grown in the state and about 7 million pounds produced.
The top tobacco county is Brown in southern Ohio, where Dugan is headquartered. It had 1,450 acres and 2,886,000 pounds of tobacco in 2006, the department reported.
No numbers for area
Tobacco production in Summit, Portage, Medina, Stark and Wayne counties is so small that production numbers are not even collected, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department said.
Carey said a smoker, who goes through a pack a day needs about 17 pounds of tobacco a year.
''So if I get a thousand pounds, it will be good for 50 something years.''
But first, he must harvest the tobacco this summer and then cure it.
Carey said he will use an old corn crib for curing the crop.
Because tobacco growing has such a long history in the United States, he said, it will be fun to experience that tradition.
''Tobacco is more American than apple pie and baseball,'' Carey said.
He said he will be able to determine from this year's growth, which type of plants do best in Northeast Ohio's climate.
As a teenager, Carey worked on a farm in Boston Heights and said he feels confident that he has the skills to pull off his tobacco experiment.
''I'm not trying to start a revolution or anything,'' said Carey, who has time to work on his crop because of the downturn in the economy and its impact on the building trades.
''I'm trying to end up with a finished product I can use for cigarettes and cigars.''
Ready late next year
Once the tobacco leaves are ripe, he said, he will cut the stalks down and cure the plants. He figures he may be able to smoke the first cigarettes from his field late next year.
Carey said that so far, the crop looks good.
''The plants are doing very well other, than a small bout with slugs that cost about 50 plants,'' he said.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.