New life for the former Davis Farm

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Construction of the massive tobacco drying barns was underway in August.

Long idle since Dr. Forrest Davis’s death, the large farm on the corner of Rte. 189 and Wells Road is now in capable hands that will keep the farming tradition going, although not with cattle. 

John and Teresa Coward, owners of the Christmas tree farm and seasonal nursery on Rte. 10/202 in Southwick, Mass. purchased the property in June with the intent to grow tobacco there. In fact, 14 acres of the land have already been planted with what will become cigar wrappers and binders. Another eight acres is planted with pumpkins. They plan to plant Christmas trees in 2021. The old cattle barn was torn down and new tobacco barns are being built. They will house the drying tobacco leaves.

Teresa, John and Remi Coward pose for a picture in their pumpkin patch at the former Davis Farm on the corner of Rte. 189 and Wells Road. 14 acres of tobacco have been planted. Photos by Shirley Murtha

Farming is in the Coward’s blood, tobacco farming in particular for John. Teresa grew up on a dairy farm in Southwick that was started by her great grandfather. She and John met at Southwick High School and were married in 1986, when John was in the National Guard and worked for a tobacco farm in Massachusetts. 

In 1985, they purchased 47 acres where their Southwick business is now located and planted evergreens to be sold at Christmas. The trees reached saleable size in 1992. Meanwhile, Teresa worked at Hamilton Standard and John and a partner oversaw 300-plus acres of shade tobacco for Connleaf, Inc. in Westfield. They planted pumpkins on the Rte. 10 property: pick your own, all you can carry for $7, and also had a pick-your own strawberry patch for a while.

In 2004, John left Connleaf and began growing broadleaf tobacco in Southwick. For extra income, he began growing mums from the backyard. In 2007, the couple purchased an additional four acres at the tree farm. John built the impressive barn-style retail building, where, beginning in 2009, visitors can purchase holiday home and tree decorations, kissing balls, roping and wreaths in addition to the trees.

After several years of a declining tobacco market, the couple began their plans for a seasonal nursery. They added structures to the Rte. 10/202 property, including the large greenhouse, that enable them to provide myriad flowering plants and vegetables in the spring and early summer as well as the trees and other décor at Christmas. 

As their seasonal nursery began to grow, the tobacco market began to recover. At that point, their son decided to become involved in the family business, which has been a big help. When John happened to drive by the Davis property this spring and saw the “For Sale” sign, he knew immediately what he wanted to do there. The closing date was in June and shortly after, the planting and renovations began. John expects to plant additional Christmas trees in 2021. These will be harvested and brought to the Southwick location as pre-cuts for those who would rather not cut their own. 

What will become of the vintage home on the site? Unfortunately, there is a great deal of decay and absolutely no plumbing. Thieves stole all the copper piping while the place was vacant. After consulting with professionals, the Cowards realized that it would be far too expensive to renovate the house; eventually it will need to be torn down. Teresa notes that the wonderful windows and some other woodwork will be saved. An appraiser will help the couple decide what should be kept.

Granby welcomes the Cowards to town and our vital agricultural community. Things often have a way of coming full circle, and that is true here for Teresa. That cattle farm where she was raised? Their veterinarian was—you guessed it— Dr. Forrest Davis.