Over the past couple of weeks, the tobacco’s been coming in across Lancaster County.
Tobacco production here shot up after restrictions were removed a few years ago. Lancaster already had a tradition of cultivation, but with farmers now allowed to grow varieties such as burley and with quotas removed, more and more of it has been seen filling up the county’s farmlands.
Tobacco has been controversial among the Amish–Lancaster Amish have a tradition of growing it, though some refuse to do so. New Order Amish reject tobacco use and cultivation. Nolt and Meyers in An Amish Patchwork point out that the Parke County, Indiana settlement, which has close ties to Lancaster and an otherwise very similar Ordnung, conspicuously banned tobacco farming when the new community was formed in the early 1990’s.
Nonetheless, despite criticism by some of their own, many Amish farmers continue to raise the beautiful yet frequently deadly leaves.
Dad grew up picking tobacco in Eastern North Carolina. I recently had him along for some visits to Amish tobacco farmers.
He enjoyed sharing what we jokingly referred to as ‘tobacco war stories’, ribbing some of the Amish farmers for doing it ‘the easy way’–cutting all the leaves at once and inverting them on shocks in the field, as in this photo:
Turns out dad would strip the leaves one by one in the blazing heat over an 8-week period. Then apparently a blazing oil oven contraption dried them in scorching heat as they hung in the tobacco barn. He made it sound pretty tough, as dads are wont to do.
The Amish take their time, hanging their shocks and stripping them over the cooler winter after they’ve dried naturally.
In any case, it’s an interesting issue. Some of the Amish speak out against cultivation as feeding a destructive habit while others continue to use and grow the stuff as their fathers and grandfathers did.
As with many things in Amish America, the force of tradition often wins out over more modern currents of change. And of course, with limited space for growing, economics plays its part–there’s a reason tobacco is known as a cash crop.