Thursday, August 16, 2012

North Carolina Harvest Time!

I’ve posted about the Tobacco growing and harvesting that happens in my corner of Wallburg, NC each year. The first time I saw Tobacco growing was about 4 years go – the first year we lived here. The whole process is fascinating to me. And yes, I know there are lots of feelings from all over the globe about how “terrible” it is that North Carolina still grows something as vile as Tobacco --- but you have to understand how deep rooted this crop is here and how tied to history it is.

I don’t smoke. I can’t stand it --- but the history is as real as real can be.

“In North Carolina, tobacco growing developed a long and rich history that spanned almost three centuries. Sir Walter Raleigh was the first explorer to bring the leaf to Europe, and in later decades before the American Revolution, settlers in Carolina grew tobacco with moderate success along the Atlantic coastline. In the 1880’s, however, a new tobacco boom occurred in the state when Washington Duke introduced mass-production techniques in cigarette manufacturing. From then until 2001, tobacco growing and manufacturing were the largest source of income for North Carolina.”

It’s been a way of life for close to 300 years. It’s provided for families through good times and bad. And I love this photo of these women preparing the harvest for drying and curing! All over North Carolina you will find the remains of tobacco barns dotting the countryside. Some still in use, some fallen into decades of disrepair and crumbling into non-existence.

These are some pictures I took of the fields around my house.

Little by little these fields are giving way to other crops, as progress marches on and fewer and fewer farmers are making a living from growing tobacco.


The green leaves are turning yellow as harvest time approaches. The North Carolina heat and humidity and yearly average rainfall provide for these crops, and they’ve thrived here for generations.


The planting, grooming, and leaf removal are all done plant by plant, by workers and knives, the way it has been done for as far back as tobacco has been grown here. I love the view of the house far in the back corner of the photo. Their view? Green tobacco, as far as the eye can see.


The plants stand about waist high at this point…..my favorite part of the harvest is the “tobacco wagons” that connect to each other much like train cars --- two or three wagons being pulled behind pick up trucks laden with leaves ready for curing and drying. I know summer is almost over when I hear the rumble and jumble of the tobacco wagons being pulled down the road past my house to the drying facility beyond.

Another summer drawing to a close!

It’s been a good one, hasn’t it?


  1. I have roots in North Carolina as well. My grandparents used to have tobacco fields all around them. Slowly, those fields have given way to homes. There's a lot of fields that moved to other crops but there's also a lot that moved to non-farming uses. You're so right that the growing and curing of tobacco has been a way of life in NC for centuries. We're seeing that change in this generation. Some of that is good, but we're also losing to. There's been a loss of revenue, farms and jobs. Those that still farm tobacco do so because it's their life and it's what they know. They deserve respect for how they tend the land and keep old traditions alive. Thanks for such a wonderful treating of this.

    1. Anonymous8:49 AM EDT

      This brought back memmories of this yankee who lived in a rental house in the middle of a tobacco field. One year I decided to ask for a job and I was hired to "hand" the tobacco. It was the hardest work, for the least amount of pay that I did in my entire life. These folks work very very hard for the income they get from this crop. Thanks Bonnie and Dawn. Bobbie Spann, Dallas, GA.

    2. It's not the tobacco that's the problem, it's what is added to it! We seem to be going backwards with our modern technology.

  2. Anonymous7:55 AM EDT

    interesting. don't know that i've ever seen a tobacco field. the tobacco story sound alot like what i saw happening in california with the orchards......the orchards were going out so houses could be build. i grew up at the edge of orchards like the house at the edge of the tobacco field. i walked home from school threw the orchards. sad to see all that go. that's our history, but with change comes the making of new history. thanks for sharing the tobacco fields.

  3. Thank you, Bonnie, for honoring our heritage. I'm sad seeing all the farms disappear...swallowed up hy shopping malls and housing developments. Farming is difficult in the best of times and for our ancestors, it was the only way to survive. As Dawn Marie said in her comment, they deseve respect...and i don't know a better steward of the land than a farmer. Those of us who still farm know it's only a matter of time before we too will have to give up something we love...every day is a struggle. Thanks again for helping us remember why we do what we do.

  4. That brings back some memories! One summer our family road trip took us to NC to visit a friend of my father's who was a tobacco farmer. The sight and smell of those leaves hanging and drying in his barn is still quite clear. We were given a couple leaves to take home to MI with us. I took mine for Show and Tell.
    I also recall staying for dinner that evening and being served okra for the first time. I will NEVER forget that. I didn't like it one bit!

  5. It is pretty amazing when you think of it from an agricultural point of view. Tobacco was actually the first cash crop in the colonies. Originally, cotton could only be grown near the coast as it needed the humidity. Once a new plant type was developed that could go in drier climates, and Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin to remove the seeds, cotton took over as the cash crop of the south.

    Ok, I'll take off my teacher hat now.. I don't teach this until after Christmas :o)


  6. Anonymous8:34 AM EDT

    I love everything about farming. I may not agree with tobacco use, but it is how that farmer makes a living. He has to make a living some how. I respect all the hard work farmers put into their crops. Not many people would want to do so much manual labor each day. A town in UT is battling with farmer's right now over a major freeway. The farmers don't want to lose land, but the residents (40+ families) don't want to lose their homes . The freeway even has an exit ramp planned to go into an elementary school parking lot and circle the school, if the farmer's get their way. Sometimes, it is for the best, not always.

  7. Have to agree with most about the use of tobacco - but if it wasn't tobacco, it would be something else. There is a heritage behind the tobacco farming and that has to count for something. Thank you for giving us a bit of American pride this morning.

  8. I remember the smell, from when I lived in NC. I lived closer to Durham.

  9. farmers have a tough life, even if it isn't for a crop that can be so damaging to the body. right now I'm being treated for COPD, I've only ever been a 2nd hand smoker. I catch everything that goes around....
    I hope that some other food crop can take over that area.
    However History, is History. I know it won't go away anytime soon, and maybe they will find it is a cure for CA in it.....

  10. Here in Massachusetts tobacco is grown inthe Connecticut river/Pioneer Valley for use as the outer wrapping of cigars. When I lived out there many years ago one could see the tobacco barns (we called them tobacco sheds) full of the drying leaves. I am planning to do a Tobacco Road Quilt and calling it Route 116 - that's where I saw my first tobacco shed!

  11. I would have never recognized that as tobacco as I have never seen it in a field!!

  12. A good friend of mine has family history in NC tobacco farming communities... He has a table on which we now play poker, about 3 times per year when the traveling poker game is at his house, that was once in the family owned tobacco processing plant.

    It is scarred from the beating it took from knives cutting leaves of tobacco, and it is stained with the oils from the plants being cut on it. It is a "beautiful" ugly old work table with a lot of history. His wife doesn't like it, but he won't part with it.

    And YES it has been a good summer.... I got to meet YOU.


  13. Anonymous4:51 PM EDT

    My family grew Perique tobacco in St. James Parish Louisiana (the only place in the world where Perique will grow) for nearly 200 years. I spent summers with my grandparents and worked the "fabrique" -- the process of removing, by hand, the leaf from the stem and packing the leaves into barrels for curing. Hard, hot, and dirty work. As my grandmother used to say when someone complained about how tough they had it, "tu fais besoin un bon fabrique" (you need to make a good fabrique). If you are ever in Durham you might enjoy a visit to Duke Homestead. Before the school system I work for began cutting back on field trips, I used to go there every year. The museum includes exhibits on tobacco growing in a number of places, including St. James Parish. The men in the picture are my mother's cousins.

    Cindy in NC

  14. Anonymous11:48 PM EDT

    I live in SC, not far from Charlotte, NC... My cousins lived in tobacco country in Windell, NC and worked the tobacco fields and the drying of the tobacco in the sheds... We use to go visit them.. They were poor as church mice and lived in a shack in the very middle of the fields.. It's amazing how you can go into those sheds now after many decades of non use and still smell the tobacco... Gail


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