Tobacco Valley, Connecticut Photo Heavy

ctlavluvrAugust 12, 2008

It's been interesting to see others' surroundings, and I hope you enjoy this brief tour through one of the few remaining "wrap tobacco" areas of the country. They are now a fourth generation farm, and the owners are deeply committed to remaining farmers.

All of this is within 1/4 mile of my house, and it hasn't ceased to amaze me for my entire life that the growing, harvesting and drying methods remain unchanged. Virtually Nothing is mechanized except for tractors pulling the harvest rather than horses.

The view from my yard across the street to the "sun type" fields. Note the empty tractor-pulled wagon.

One side of the field is planted for seed; the other for strictly foliage. Each year the seed fields are rotated so that the soil doesn't wear out.

True Nicotiana:

The other type of tobacco is shade grown -- a luxury amongst cigar makers. This is the type of tobacco I worked on in my youth, and suffice to say that the heat index under those nets is suffocating:

Harvested and ready for cover crop ...

Leaves are sorted in the field by length, and transported for drying -- these guys cruise so just managed to get the now-filled wagaon. We watch and hear this scene for several days, all day, each summer:

The leaves are then hung to dry -- only certain workers that have worked the fields for many years are allowed to do the acrobatics necessary to hang the leaves:

Hope you enjoyed learning about our part of CT's agricultural history!

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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Looks like the country there Martie. I would have never guessed that they grew tobacco in CT. I always thought it was grown either in the South or out of the country. I wonder if the focus on No Smoking everywhere has put a dent in the growers who grow tobacco? Or are there still a lot of smokers? I love that last photo of all the leaves hanging. So you actually worked in the tobacco fields at some point? Right in your neighborhood where you are now?


    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 12:23PM
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Jerri_OKC(z7 Ok)

This is just so interesting! I also thought tobacco was grown in the south. The leaves hanging in the barn make a wonderful photo. Thanks for posting these Martie!


    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 12:27PM
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Wow, Martie, very interesting. I really like the last shot of the leaves hung up to dry. Very pretty countryside!

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 12:37PM
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Martie, I didn't know tobacco was grown this far north, either!

Tobacco was the main agriculture in the area where I went to school. I used to be jealous of the kids who didn't have to come to school because they were excused to work in the fields. I didn't really understand the hard work involved back then :)

It is very picturesque and makes me a bit homesick :) Thanks for sharing with us!


    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 12:47PM
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The tobacco grown in Connecticut is strictly for cigars. Thus, more farmers are turning to it as a mid-season crop than are turning away given the demand for high-end cigars. New England farmers in particular LOVE the trade embargo with Cuba. Just another of those swamp Yankee things.....

Yes, I did work under the nets, and we never knew what farm or even town we'd end up in that day. All the farmers kind of hire a herd of people and use them where needed. Much of the work now is done by professional farm laborers, but there are still kids who see a means to a lot of bucks working the fields.

You can start when you're fourteen as a "under netter." You sit on burlap between the rows, and scooch back to pick only mature leaves. At this point it's all piece work. You hand the leaves to a sorter as you go, who brings them to the end of the row where they're sown. Sorting is the most physically demanding as you're hauling huge amounts of wet leaves up and down obviously long rows.

Sowing is a promotion, and involves using a foot-pedaled machine that puts two twine stiches into each of the bundles. Each bundle is usually only about five leaves thick so that they'll dry evenly. There's a loop of twine on top so the bundle can be hung.

Each sower has a hanger (another promotion) who takes the sewn bundles and puts them on a drying rod -- just a dowel-like piece of wood, and when the dowel is full brings it to to the cart.

The drivers have the best job of all, as you might guess.

With each promotion, it gets less filthy and cooler. Pickers and sorters get no break, sewers get minute breaks, hangers get the most breaks while waiting for wagons to come back.

There used to be at least two thousand acres planted each year in my little part of the state. Now, there are about 1,200 and I give the farmers credit for sticking with it when it could be more lucrative and much easier to sell to developers.

Come anytime and see for yourself!


    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 1:27PM
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Very interesting and great pictures. Thanks for taking us along.


    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 1:42PM
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Marian_2(Z6 ARKozarks)

Martie, that is interesting ! I have never seen a field of tobacco, except in pictures. I 'did' grow my own little patch just for fun. I sent for the seeds from a catalog. ( It was a long time ago...I think it was Thompsons.) We didn't dry the leaves. :-) I think maybe they were eaten up by tobacco worms. LOL

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 7:33PM
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Martie, I might have to sally forth and get some grape harvest photos ! This was quite an education, as many others have mentioned I had no idea that tobacco was grown in CT. I imagine that savy farmers are considering alternative crops as the use of tobacco declines ? Here in Napa county the 'mono-culture' farming practices are starting to be questioned;you are seeing olive orchards, and other fruit trees making a comeback.

Thanks for the tour !

Kathy in Napa

Kathy in Napa

    Bookmark   August 12, 2008 at 9:59PM
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The whole farming culture is fascinating indeed. Maine was one of the first states in the country to have a really active organic farming and gardening organization (Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener Assoc.). They remain a presence in agriculture and policy making in the state. Oakhurst Dairy was the first in the country to refuse to use Artificial Growth Hormone and they were sued for for it on the grounds their claim insinuated AGH was dangerous! (they have since modified the claim to comply since they didn't have the $ to fight agribusiness; but what does the aggressive lawsuit insinuate about AGH??).

For many, many years the central plains of Maine produced reliable harvests of grain. But the ground is rocky and the post Civil War years saw an exodus to the mid-west where 24" of stoneless topsoil was readily available. Recently, there is a group beginning to explore the viability of growing grain again; fuel prices and consumer interest providing the impetus.

On Monday there was an interesting lecture on NPR about food production, how much it REALLY costs, and how "cheap" food is really an illusion. Very revealing. The program is Word For Word, I tried to find a direct link to it, but couldn't. The speaker was a fascinating guy named, Paul Roberts and he was discussing his book, "The End of Food". Sounds like another book I'd like to read but will forget about in due time. :)

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 7:04AM
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We have a shop expression for those times when you're looking for something, can't find it, and it's right in front of you. That's "lookin' like a man". :)

Found the link!

Here is a link that might be useful: The end of food

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 7:15AM
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So glad you're enjoying this and learning a bit more about our wonderful area!

If the radius goes from 1/4 mile to about 2 miles, there are two premiere heirloom apple orchards, peach orchards, expanses of baby nursery shrubs tucked in here and there, corn for cows and humans, wheat, a pick-your-own place that encompasses five acres of organic veggies of every sort, berry fields, and a daylily grower.

We also have a farm that produces incredible compost and manure from their head of prize Holsteins, mums, and arguably some of the best on-site-made ice cream in the world.

The residents of our little area are hugely sensitive to the "specialness" in which we live and vehemently protect the land.

It may be interesting to note that while cigarette tobacco production is declining, cigar tobacco in recent years has an increased following. The farmers are using the windfall to purchase additional acreage under the State farm conservation program. It'll be interesting to see what pops up in those fields :-)

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 8:20AM
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Less stony top soil in the midwest Chelone - I know from experience and my stone walls are proof ;o)

    Bookmark   August 13, 2008 at 11:33AM
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