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Father passes down passion for farming to next generation

June 16, 2013|By KAREN MAWDSLEY | kmawdsley@schurz.com
  • Philip Litton walks along rows of blueberry bushes with his father Charles Litton on their farm in Fairplay.
By Colleen McGrath / Staff Photographer

Charles Litton sat on the front porch of his Fairplay house and looked out toward the long lane that led through his crop fields to his rust-colored barn that stood out in stark contrast to the stormy gray sky.

“You see that tree?” said Litton, 50, pointing toward a towering maple as the wind rustled the cornstalks, knee-high in mid-June. “It must be almost 30 years old. I remember when we moved in, it was about as big as my arm.”

That was 25 years ago, in 1988.

Charles Litton had married Donna in February of that year, and the couple settled on the 100-acre farm off Lappans Road, which they rented for two decades before purchasing it in 2008.

Charles grew up in Clear Spring, coming from a line of farmers on both his mother’s and father’s sides. 

“(My father) taught me how to work, that money doesn’t grow on trees,” Litton said of the man he described as hardworking, honest and faithful to his dairy farming.

Charles worked doing home improvements for his uncle for about 13 years, he said, all the while farming on the side.

He admired the tradition of independent businessmen in his family, he said, and he joined that tradition when he started farming full time about 15 years ago. He adopted a similar attitude to that of his father, he said, valuing strong character and hard work, traits well-suited for life on a farm.

“I was born on a farm, raised on a farm, lived on a farm and I’ve been on a farm ever since,” Litton said.

His son, Philip, 19, who has lived in the Lappans Road house since his birth in December 1993, can say the same.

“When they were old enough to understand what to do, they were out there doing it with us,” Litton said of the couple’s eight children.

Donna Litton noted she had the six boys and two girls — Benjamin, Rebecca, Isaac, Philip, Elizabeth, Aaron, Timothy and Mark — weeding and picking berries from as early as 3 years old.

She has home schooled all of the children, a full-time job, she said. Philip, the couple’s fourth child, graduated from high school in June 2011.

Although he has taken classes at Hagerstown Community College and had an internship in Annapolis with Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, for two legislative sessions, Philip’s passion lies in farming. Those experiences helped solidify his appreciation of the work his father raised him to love, he said.

“Farming’s in my blood, I guess,” Philip said.

“The first time (Philip) ever saw a cow, he fell in love. And he’s been in love ever since,” Charles Litton said.

But farming is not the easiest way to make a living.

“I always think farmers are the dumbest people we know,” Charles Litton said. “We work twice the hours for half the money, and we tell ourselves we enjoy it.”

Charles Litton said he usually is awake at 5:30 a.m., and it might be 10:30 p.m. before he gets to bed. It’s not uncommon for him and Philip to work 18-hour days.

Their schedule depends on the time of year, they said.

Their main crops are asparagus, berries, onions and squash, so they are coming up on the busiest time of the year, a six-week period beginning at the end of June, they said.

“A typical day can be really hectic,” Charles Litton said. But there are times at the end of the year when they are sitting around wondering what to do, he said.

They grow other crops, such as hay and corn, to make use of the remaining cropland.

“Sometimes, I gotta ask my wife, ‘Why do I keep doing this?’” Charles Litton said.

But he knows the answer: He likes being his own boss. He likes seeing things grow. He likes the fact that farming is something he can pass down through his family.

And family is something that is very important to him.

In 2004, the family found itself in the face of tragedy when the oldest child, Benjamin, passed away at age 15.

The death of his son made Charles Litton more aware of his children and brought the focus on how important his family is, something you “don’t realize until you’ve lost it,” he said.

“As I get older, I can relate more to what I hear dad saying,” Philip said. “My dad is a very hardworking man, a man of character that you want to follow after.”

Making a living off farming is becoming increasingly difficult, though, Charles Litton said, attributing that to increased government regulation.

He said he realizes he won’t be able to farm forever, but “I’d just as soon die with my boots on. ... Some people, when they get old, just sit around and rust out. I’d rather wear out than rust out.”

It seems as though his dream of seeing the family keep the farm will be a reality. Philip hopes to have children of his own some day, he said, and raise them as his father raised him.

“You blazed the trail, Dad,” Philip said, giving his father a playful punch in the arm.

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