Thursday, August 24, 2006
Pioneer Valley tobacco
One does not often think of New England as tobacco country. But up and down the Connecticut River valley we have nutrient rich soil conducive to growing a variety of crops. Many children were raised exclusively on the fine local produce. Our Hadley asparagus is nationally famous. Sweet corn is an anxiously awaited summer staple as is the fall Silver Queen known for its white, small kernels. Maple Syrup in the Spring and McIntosh apples in the fall are seasonal favorites. Living here we are all so privileged to be in touch with the changing seasons heralded by the harvests of local products.
As I drive down the roads this late summer I have watched the broadleaf tobacco being harvested by the men in their tractors. The leaves are carefully picked, loaded on special carts and hung upside down in huge barns to dry. On warm dry days those barns are opened so air can circulate turning those green moist leaves into dry brown sheets to be used in the production of cigars. One barn in Whately MA is next to a cemetary and I could not help but notice the irony of seeing the tobacco now so strongly linked to respiratory disease juxtaposed to a final resting ground. Demand for this crop is so strong market prices are so high many farmers devote much of their fields to tobacco. It is apparent that monetary priorities drive the market in crop production here as in everywhere else, whether it be Colombia, Mexico or Afghanistan.