Tracy (Cunningham) Bobbitt and her husband Mac Bobbitt own 320 acres in Conway, Missouri. The farm became an official Century Farm in 2015. Photo by Amanda Bradley.
Photo by Amanda Bradley

Farm established in 1889 is still buzzing with activity

CONWAY, MO. – A parcel of land in Laclede County, Mo., was acquired by the Cunningham family in 1889. Today the farm has been transformed into an apiary yet is still owned by a member of the Cunningham bloodline. 

Tracy (Cunningham) Bobbitt and her husband Mac Bobbitt own 320 acres in Conway, Missouri, where their farming operations consist of selling hay, growing elderberries, and most interestingly, letting their many bees swarm native plants and pasture. The couple made the farm an official Century Farm in 2015.

The farm has had continuous Cunningham ownership for more than 130 years. The original owner was Tracy’s great-great grandfather Joseph Cunningham, and great-great grandmother, whose name is believed to have been Caroline. Family legend has it that it was Tracy’s great-great grandmother who actually built the first Cunningham home on the property. 

Tracy’s great grandparents, William and Mollie Cunningham, were the next owners, followed by Tracy’s grandparents, Tom and Dorrlis Cunningham. Tracy is the fifth generation on the farm, but the fourth Cunningham to own the property. 

The original parcel of land didn’t include 320 acres, only 60, but over the years adjoining parcels were acquired to grow the farm’s size. Tracy and Mac purchased the property in 2009 and built a new home very close to where the original structure stood on the hillside. 

The original Cunningham home in 1889. It housed many family members and hosted many meals over the decades. Submitted Photo.
Submitted Photo

The original home housed many members and hosted many meals over the decades. The farm itself had a purpose of providing food for the family, a true homestead in the 1800s sense of the word. Tracy and Mac recounted there used to be a dairy farm on the property, and the family grew peanuts and corn, as well in addition to their own daily food staples. 

Tracy and Mac have two grown sons they raised in the Springfield area before retiring to the country. Tracy, a retired teacher from Republic Schools, and Mac, who retired from the UPS, now enjoy their time on the historical land keeping bees, selling honey, growing elderberries and spending time with their granddaughter. 

Mac used to help his father with bees and has had an interest in beekeeping. He purchased bees from his mentor a few years ago and his hobby bloomed. He now has 12 hives which he spreads across the Ozarks both for the good of the bees and for friends’ properties which benefit from the pollination. When it comes time to harvest honey, Mac and Tracy each have their own part to play in the production. Mac works directly with the bees – with tales of stings to tell – and Tracy harvests, packs and labels the honey right on the farm.

Honey and Honeycomb from the Bobbitt Cunningham Century Farm in Conway, Missouri. Photo by Amanda Bradley.
Photo by Amanda Bradley
Candles made from the honey from Tracy and Mac Bobbitt's farm in Conway, Missouri.
Photo by Amanda Bradley

Checking the bees weekly requires a lot of driving and can be time consuming, but the bees have to be monitored, Mac said. Sometimes the bees necessitate feeding with sugar water, especially in the back-and-forth Ozarks climate of cold springs and “second winters.” 

Besides making sure the bees stay fed, “bees get too crowded,” Mac added. Overcrowding results in swarming, which means a large percentage of the hive will leave. Mac checks frequently to make sure the brood boxes aren’t becoming overpopulated, and if so, he adds a brood box to the stack. 

Mac also takes time to monitor for pests and predators. In Taney County, a bear recently destroyed some of his hives and boxes. He also checks for signs of wax moths, which can be detrimental to the hive causing comb destruction and even bee deaths.

All these factors contribute to the honey harvest outcome. One year, they were lucky to produce 1,400 pounds of honey. However, Tracy said on average they produce 600 to 800 pounds per year. 

But the Bobbitts aren’t necessarily in it for the gains from those pounds of honey. “It’s a hobby,” Tracy said, and most years they tend to break even due to the expensive nature of the equipment. They purchased their own extractor in recent years and began jarring and labeling it themselves to cut down on cost.

The beekeeping and harvesting of honey are something they both enjoy sharing with others. Tracy relishes the time harvesting honey with her aunt and picking elderberries with her granddaughter to mix with honey and make elderberry syrup. And while Mac doesn’t yet give beekeeping tours and demonstrations on the farm, he did recently finish teaching a class at the University of Missouri Extension office in Lebanon, Mo.

So, in one way or another, the Cunningham family farm continues in the 133-year tradition of food production for family and community.

Bee hive. Mac Bobbitt recently finished teaching a beekeeping class at the University of Missouri Extension Office in Lebanon, Missouri. Photo by Amanda Bradley.
Photo by Amanda Bradley


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