Life in Christian County, Kentucky...
Tobacco harvest has begun in southern Kentucky. The burley tobacco plants above are in a field where cutting has begun. This will probably be their last day in the field. They're about 5 feet tall, and no space remains between them in the rows.
Cutting the tobacco plants is a laborious job, made more so by the heat and humidity of August. The plants are cut individually with large knives. If workers get too much tobacco sap on their skin, a dangerous nicotine overdose is possible. Despite the heat, many wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts for protection but sap-saturated clothing can make them sick too!
The plants in the photo at left have been cut and a stick has been placed with each stack of plants. The next step is to hang the tobacco plants on the sticks. Next, the tobacco-laden sticks will be loaded onto trailers (photo below) and hauled to a barn. In the barn, the sticks will be laid across horizontal beams ("tiers") that allow the entire interior to be filled with hanging tobacco.
Hanging the tobacco in the barns is a rather dangerous procedure. The sticks are heavy and unwieldy with the plants hanging from them. They are handed up by workers from one tier to the next as the barn is filled from the top down. I know of one fellow who fell from the top tier and was terribly injured. To make matters worse, the barn was off the main road in a remote field so that it was difficult to even get an ambulance in.
Much of the field labor nowadays is provided by migrant workers, mostly Mexicans. They arrive in early summer to help with the daily hand-tending of the fields, and they stay through the harvest. A few workers may remain until the leaves are stripped from the plants in November or December.
Tobacco has been grown in Christian County for a long time, and it's an important part of the local economy and tradition. Growing a tobacco crop requires a thorough knowledge of the plant and a lot of hard work. A skillful farmer is rightfully proud of a fine crop. It's sad that the end products of tobacco are addictive and harmful.