Kentucky Tobacco in a New Century
Publication Year: 2013
Once iconic American symbols, tobacco farms are gradually disappearing. It is difficult for many people to lament the loss of a crop that has come to symbolize addiction, disease, and corporate deception; yet, in Kentucky, the plant has played an important role in economic development and prosperity. Burley tobacco -- a light, air-cured variety used in cigarette production -- has long been the Commonwealth's largest cash crop and an important aspect of regional identity, along with bourbon, bluegrass music, and Thoroughbred horses.
In Burley: Kentucky Tobacco in a New Century, Ann K. Ferrell investigates the rapidly transforming process of raising and selling tobacco by chronicling her conversations with the farmers who know the crop best. She demonstrates that although the 2004 "buyout" ending the federal tobacco program is commonly perceived to be the most significant change that growers have had to negotiate, it is, in reality, only one new factor among many. Burley reveals the tangible and intangible challenges tobacco farmers face today, from the logistics of cultivation to the growing stigma against the crop.
Ferrell uses ethnography, archival research, and rhetorical analysis to tell the complex story of burley tobacco production in twenty-first-century Kentucky. Not only does she give a voice to the farmers who persevere in this embattled industry, but she also sheds light on their futures, contesting the widely held assumption that they can easily replace the crop by diversifying their opera-tions with alternative crops. As tobacco fades from both the physical and economic landscapes, this nuanced volume documents and explores the culture and practices of burley production today.
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
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Title Page, Copyright
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In the field of oral history, Kentucky is a national leader. Over the past several decades, thousands of its citizens have been interviewed. While oral history is, of course, only one type of source material, the very personal nature of recollection often discloses hidden aspects of history. Oral sources thus provide a vital thread in the rich fabric ...
A Note on Transcription
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The process of transcribing the spoken word onto the page and pre-senting it for others to read is a harrowing one; none of us speaks hope. Like others who face this challenge, I have struggled with how to represent the words of my interviewees in a manner that is respectful, readable, and true to their voices. In this spirit, I have ...
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No project can be completed without the input, support, and assis-tance of many individuals and institutions. This is especially true in are the experts on the topic. Most of all, I am grateful to the farm-sity of Kentucky College of Agriculture and Kentucky Cooperative and graciously shared their time and knowledge with me. All those ...
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...state: the countryside of childhood will soon be gone. The links between land and culture, sense of place, history, and identity have intersections of nature, culture, history, and ideology form the ground on which we stand—our land, our place, the local.”2 Such intersections, of course, are neither inherent in the land itself nor ...
Part 1The Burley TobaccoCrop Year,Then and Now
Introduction to Part 1
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It’s a late winter day in March 2007, and when Keenan Bishop, county extension agent, and I get out of my pickup truck at a Frank-lin County, Kentucky, farm, we are immediately encircled by two curious but friendly dogs, including a tiny dog I will come to know as Buster. We walk through a gate to where two men are working, ...
Chapter 1Sowing the Seedsand Setting the Tobacco
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The work that Martin was engaged in on that March day when I first met him was the preparation of the beds in which his tobacco plants would germinate and grow. Because tobacco seeds are too delicate to plant directly in the field, they must be started in a protected environment and then transplanted. As we talked, he stretched thick ...
Chapter 2The Harvest throughPreparation for Market
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In preparation for cutting, tobacco sticks—wooden sticks, about four and a half feet long and three-quarters by one inch in diameter, hand-split or manufactured, that will hold the cut tobacco—are dropped in the field. Most often they are loaded onto a platform on the back of a highboy where at least two people stand or sit (depending on ...
Chapter 3Taking Tobacco to Market
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The auction system developed and evolved over the centuries but was basically in place by the early twentieth century. Throughout event marked by local festivals and widely covered by the media. For instance, in 1939 the opening of the markets in Lexington, for many years the largest burley marketing center, included “a parade, the ...
Part 2The Shifting Meaningsof Tobacco
Introduction to Part 2
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In my early fieldwork with tobacco producers I learned that tobacco nographic research I learned about a range of changes that have taken place on tobacco farms—from technological innovations to new marketing practices. But other kinds of changes pervaded my fieldwork: the changed political and social meanings of tobacco, the ...
Chapter 4Tobacco’s Move fromSelf-Evident toSelf-Conscious Tradition
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...culture began publishing a newsletter, through the 1960s, the KDA’s coverage of tobacco quickly became increasingly self-conscious as threats to tobacco increased. Although the “health scares” began in the early 1950s, they were not directly remarked upon until the release of the surgeon general’s report in 1964. Tobacco was occa-...
Chapter 5Tobacco under Attack
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A 2003 editorial lamented, “They tell us change is good, and we gen-erally don’t shy from it. But when change causes the demise of a tradition, it’s a sad thing. Tobacco is not the most politically correct crop in the world, but it is such a huge part of our history and heri-tage.”1 Here tobacco is described as a dead tradition, killed off by ...
Part 3Raising Burley Tobaccoin a New Century
Introduction to Part 3
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When I asked one county extension agent about public perceptions If you’re asking, Ann, if a tobacco farmer in Kentucky can go “I’m a tobacco farmer from Kentucky” and be proud of it— I think there has to be a little bit of stigma, that they don’t Over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, the ...
Chapter 6“Now is the good old days”
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...family ties to tobacco, and many worked in tobacco as children or young adults. This is not surprising; I was repeatedly told that at one time “every little farm” had a tobacco base, and indeed, throughout the twentieth century tobacco was grown on most Kentucky farms. descriptions from memory are often saturated with sensory details. ...
Chapter 7“Why can’t they just growsomething else?”
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According to the author of a review of James Baker Hall and Wendell Berry’s Tobacco Harvest: An Elegy in the Lexington Herald-Leader, subtitled “Harvesting Our Heritage,” “Tobacco growing is going, done in first by health concerns, then by the global economy and cheap imported leaf.”1 The federal tobacco buyout was seen by many ...
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Much has changed in the Burley Belt since the major period of my research, the 2007 crop year. Tobacco companies—with Philip Mor-ris in the lead as the largest burley buyer—have stopped offering incentives to farmers who fulfill their contracts, they have cut many growers’ contracts significantly or entirely and increased others, and ...
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Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Kentucky Remembered: An Oral History Series