This old barn, this new money: tobacco farmers are in trouble. Except that is, the ones who have discovered a lucrative alternative.
From the outside, this old barn in Stickleyvile, Virginia looks like any other barn you might find among the remote mountain hollows of Appalachia. Rough pine and hemlock hemlock, any tree of the genus Tsuga, coniferous evergreens of the family Pinaceae (pine family) native to North America and Asia. The common hemlock of E North America is T. siding keeps out the rain and wind. Chestnut and oak beams hold up the roof. Rows of curing tobacco plants hang from the rafters, their tints of lemon, orange, and mahogany reflecting the autumn colors of the surrounding hillsides.
The barn stands in the shadow of Powell Mountain Powell Mountain (or "Powells Mountain") is a mountain ridge of the Ridge-and-valley Appalachians of the Appalachian Mountains. It is a long and narrow ridge, running northeast to southwest, from about Norton, Virginia to near Tazewell, Tennessee. , a long, thin sandstone ridge in the southwestern corner of Virginia that is wedged between eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, about midway along the Appalachian mountain range that stretches across the eastern United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. from Georgia to Maine. The Powell River Powell River may refer to:
Powell Valley is a picturesque location, with an overlook accessible from the Northbound lanes of U.S. Route 23. . The next ridge to the south is Clinch Mountain Clinch Mountain is a mountain ridge in the U.S. states of Tennessee and Virginia, lying in the ridge-and-valley section of the Appalachian Mountains. It runs in a general east-northeasterly direction from near Blaine, Tennessee to Garden Mountain near Burke's Garden, Virginia. , flanked by its own valley and river. Stone Mountain is to the North.
What sets this barn apart from its neighbors is the recent addition of a new refrigerator and packing shed for vegetables-one of the reasons why a handful of local growers have gathered here on a rainy morning. The men sit on stools and boxes in a new office built into the barn's loft. The office is solid, but unpainted and without finishing touches finishing touches finish npl the finishing touches → der letzte Schliff
finishing touches npl → ultimi ritocchi mpl . Despite the very traditional hanging tobacco (a local grower-not present-is renting the space), a big change is brewing here.
Among the unlikely pioneers who have come to discuss this change is Sam Askins, a 54-year-old farmer whose family has been raising tobacco in nearby Russell County Russell County is the name of several counties worldwide:
For generations, local farmers have gathered in barns at this time of year to bundle their cured tobacco for auction. But this year, Askins has been working to rescue the last of his organic bell pepper crop from the coming frost. He has brought 61 boxes of peppers to the barn to be sorted, cleaned, and boxed in Adj. 1. boxed in - enclosed in or as if in a box; "boxed cigars"; "a confining boxed-in space"; "felt boxed in by the traffic"
enclosed - closed in or surrounded or included within; "an enclosed porch"; "an enclosed yard"; "the enclosed check the new packing shed. The peppers are bound for an Atianta branch of Whole Foods Market, a U.S. chain believed to be the largest organic foods retailer in the world.
Other local growers have come here to admire Sam Askins' harvest and plan what organic crops they will raise next year themselves--mainly for Food City, a local grocery chain--and to discuss the reasons they are all kicking tobacco in favor of organic farming organic farming, the practice of raising plants—especially fruits and vegetables, but ornamentals as well—without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. .
"I used to get sicker than a dog, with fever, burning skin, and nausea, if I wasn't real careful with the chemicals I sprayed on tobacco," says Askins. He became particularly leery of flumetralin, a plant growth inhibitor and herbicide herbicide (hr`bəsīd'), chemical compound that kills plants or inhibits their normal growth. A herbicide in a particular formulation and application can be described as selective or nonselective. marketed as Prime Plus, that farmers use to control the suckers that sprout at the base of the tobacco plant in spring. "I usually ran a low grade fever, with my skin itching and burning, when I used Prime." The chemicals may have affected the environment, as well. "You don't hear bullfrogs or toads anymore, because we've poisoned the streams and creeks with our chemicals," he speculates. He also describes the symptoms of nicotine poisoning Noun 1. nicotine poisoning - toxic condition caused by the ingestion or inhalation of large amounts of nicotine
intoxication, poisoning, toxic condition - the physiological state produced by a poison or other toxic substance from handling the ripe tobacco plant: sudden nausea, dizziness, and headaches. The other growers, all of them at least third-generation tobacco farmers, nod in agreement.
The shift underway in this rail end of a state renowned for its flavorful tobacco is representative of a trend throughout the United States and the world, as farmers beset by failing prices, and tired of dealing with chemicals, switch to organic crops to protect their livelihoods. Askins will receive $26 for each 25-pound box of his organic bell peppers, as compared with the mere $8 he'd get for a box of conventionally grown Conventionally grown is an agriculture term referring to a method of growing edible plants (such as fruit and vegetables) and other products. It is opposite to organic growing methods which attempt to produce without synthetic chemicals (fertilisers, pesticides, antibiotics, peppers.
As of the spring of 2003, there were 40 growers who had made this transition in Virginia, along with another 18 in nearby North Carolina North Carolina, state in the SE United States. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean (E), South Carolina and Georgia (S), Tennessee (W), and Virginia (N). Facts and Figures
Area, 52,586 sq mi (136,198 sq km). Pop. . Together, they now manage a total of 550 acres-more than four times the amount of land turned over to organics just two years ago, but still only a tiny fraction of land in the tobacco belt.
Despite this small scale, I saw signs in this gathering that, contrary to the popular notion that you can't teach old dogs new tricks, we humans may not be just creatures of habit. The "old dogs" notion may well have its deepest roots in places like this, where traditions gain strength and permanence as one generation passes them to the next. But if stubbornness is innate to humans, so too is the ability to adapt to new circumstances. In fact, our prospects for saving life on Earth may well depend on such adaptability.
BOTTOM LAND, BOTTOM LINE
"The financial return is very attractive," says John Muffins, a 35-year-old who is part owner (Law) one of several owners or tenants in common. See
See also: Part of the converted barn. Mullins has been around tobacco since he was a kid, but decided to raise Prudens Purple tomatoes, yellow Yukon potatoes, and half a dozen other heirloom vegetables--all organically--several years ago. (Heirlooms are traditional varieties not available from large-scale commercial producers.) Mullins says that whereas he netted about $2,500 from his best acre of tobacco this past season, he cleared roughly $20,000 from a nearby acre of organic grape tomatoes. "Growing tobacco is like riding a dead horse," he allows.
For years, a U.S. government-administered quota system Quota System can refer to:
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Department of Agriculture statistics.
Despite this shrinking domestic market, farmers in these hollows remain bound to tobacco by history and habit. Their communities were originally formed around the rhythm and traditions of growing, harvesting, curing, and marketing tobacco. When a nonprofit group called Appalachian Sustainable Development Sustainable development is a socio-ecological process characterized by the fulfilment of human needs while maintaining the quality of the natural environment indefinitely. The linkage between environment and development was globally recognized in 1980, when the International Union first began helping tobacco growers raise and market organics in 1995, it found that among the majority of the farms, resistance to change was pervasive. "A few back-to-the-landers, some hippies, and one Amish family quickly got on board," recalls the group's head, Anthony Flaccavento. After that, despite the profits, very few of the traditional farmers seemed willing to make the leap.
Those who did produced mostly on a very small scale, to sell at farmers' markets It has been suggested that this article be split into multiple articles. or to neighbors who would subscribe to Verb 1. subscribe to - receive or obtain regularly; "We take the Times every day"
buy, purchase - obtain by purchase; acquire by means of a financial transaction; "The family purchased a new car"; "The conglomerate acquired a new company"; a season's worth of produce. "We mostly preached to the choir," Flaccavento says, "which kept our production capacity and our capacity to reach out to more traditional farmers fairly limited."
Then, in 1999, the group started to market their produce through the Food City chain under their own label, Appalachian Harvest--a trademark intended to capitalize on Cap´i`tal`ize on`
v. t. 1. To turn (an opportunity) to one's advantage; to take advantage of (a situation); to profit from; as, to capitalize on an opponent's mistakes s>. the strong cultural identity of the area. "Farmers and their wives began seeing the label when they shopped," giving the work some legitimacy and piquing the interest of the "old boys" network of tobacco growers, according to Flaccavento. The number of participating farmers jumped to 25 in 2001, then to 40 by the end of 2002. Appalachian Harvest produce began appearing in stores and restaurants throughout Virginia, as well as in North Carolina, Washington, DC, and as far north as Philadelphia.
FORGET THE FLUMETRALIN, BRING ON THE LADYBUGS
Tom Peterson Tom Peterson was a prominent television weatherman at KCAU-TV in Sioux City, Iowa. He was a popular television personality in the Sioux City area.
See also Peterson
Tom Peterson started at KCAU-TV during the 1970s. , an organic farmer who runs the sustainable agricultural program for Appalachian Sustainable Development, says that organic vegetable and fruit production requires an entirely different approach. "Tobacco is an industry not particularly interested in [the mature plant's] appearance," he says, explaining that tobacco farmers essentially market crinkled and burnt looking leaves. "Appearance can make or break an organic vegetable farm."
Organic farmers need to learn about different pests and plant diseases, watering requirements, and tools. They have to think about proper pollination pollination, transfer of pollen from the male reproductive organ (stamen or staminate cone) to the female reproductive organ (pistil or pistillate cone) of the same or of another flower or cone. , something that isn't even a concern with tobacco, which is raised to maximize leaf growth and prevent flowering.
Instead of having to worry about blue mold on tobacco, the new organic farmers have to deal with another plant disease common in humid regions: early blight on tomatoes. Instead of cutworms infesting tobacco fields, they cope with the striped cucumber beetle The striped cucumber beetle, Acalymma vittatum, is a beetle of the family Chrysomelidae and a serious pest of cucurbit crops in both larval and adult stages. Description . The smallest scar from this pest early in the season can result in a mature cucumber that is bent and unmarketable.
As Peterson explains, organic farming generally results in fewer pest outbreaks, as insect and plant diversity build to provide a wider range of natural defenses. But "we still need to ease people into this new approach," he says. To control early blight, for instance, he encourages the growers to trellis 1. Trellis - An object-oriented language from the University of Karlsruhe(?) with static type-checking and encapsulation.
2. Trellis - An object-oriented application development system from DEC, based on the Trellis language. (Formerly named Owl). their tomatoes to assure good air flow through the rows. Ladybugs and lacewings may be brought in to eat the eggs of the striped cucumber beetle. The beetle can also be contained by planting broccoli, nasturtiums, marigolds, or catnip.
Aubrey Paper, who runs a similar transition program for the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project in western North Carolina Western North Carolina (often abbreviated as WNC) is the region of North Carolina which includes the Appalachian Mountains, thus it is often known geographically as the state's Mountain Region. , thinks that tobacco growers in this part of the county, where small farms are the norm, might be ideally suited for the hands-on management of organic vegetable production. Most growers already keep vegetable gardens for household use, canning, and possibly some roadside marketing, he says. And the rich soils and long growing season mean that local farmers can grow pretty much anything they want.
Both Flaccavento and Raper feel that local government agencies and agricultural universities have not been as helpful in this transition as they could be. "The State Department of Agriculture has been scratching its head for years about what to do instead of tobacco," while ignoring the exploding consumer demand for organics, Raper says. "We are just a little wheel, a small gear in the giant machinery."
Ross Young, extension director for nearby Madison County, North Carolina Madison County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of 2000, the population was 19,635. Its county seat is Marshall6. History
The county was formed in 1851 from parts of Buncombe County and Yancey County. , agrees that more can be done to help farmers shift out of tobacco, but says the organic effort is "just one small program" among many possible alternatives. "It's tough," says Young, "because developing scientific research and extension materials relevant to organic farming doesn't happen overnight."
The work being done by Flaccavento's and Raper's groups is partly underwritten by money from the 1998 landmark settlement between state attorney generals and the tobacco industry, which. sets aside funding for each state to help farmers convert to other crops or businesses. The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification & Community Revitalization Commission, created from settlement money, provides about one-third of the $500,000 budget for Flaccavento's Appalachian Sustainable Development Project, including most of the funding for the converted tobacco barn.
With the average tobacco farmer in this area now in his 60s, change here is slow. But Warren LaForce, who is 29 and farms 15 acres with his father in nearby Dungannon, Virginia, anticipates the emergence of some new local traditions. Laforce went to the University of Virgina for three years to study environmental science, then to Iowa State for a year to get some background in horticulture. He left before finishing his degree to take over the family farm--an unusual decision among young people in this part of the county, who often use college as a way out of farming. Many of Warren's friends have left the area. He has stuck around, but he's not stuck in old ways.
LaForce recently attended a conference on sustainable agriculture in Durham, North Carolina Durham is a city in the U.S. state of North Carolina. It is the county seat of Durham CountyGR6 and is the fourth-largest city in the state by population. . He returned brimming over with ideas for his own farm, including the use of mobile greenhouses, mushroom compost, and production of organic seedlings to supply local growers.
Broad shouldered and with a mind for numbers ("He's a walking calculator," his mother chuckles), LaForce rattles off statistics to assess each scenario-- labor time per plant, seedlings per square foot, profits per acre. "I can fit 958 seedling trays in our new greenhouse. We'll say 1,000. Uh, 72 plants per tray. We use 72-cell trays for retail and 48-cell for growers because they use plants with bigger rootballs. That's about 70,000 plants for an organic transplant business. I can plant a 72-cell tray in four minutes. I did 15 trays while watching a basketball game last night. We'll sell five seedlings for a dollar at our farmstand. Seventy thousand will net about twelve thousand dollars."
At the conference in North Carolina, LaForce noted that the most seasoned organic growers only had 10 to 15 years of experience, compared with local farmers with 50 years of tobacco growing experience. "When I'm my dad's age," he says, "I want to be the guru of organic vegetables." He imagines a day in the future when younger growers struggling with a pest or drainage problem will come by his house to pick his brain.
LaForce has now grown organic cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, peppers, and other vegetables for Appalachian Harvest for several years. Each year, as his expertise grows, he shifts more and more of his family's land permanently into organic production. This past season, for the first time, he made more money selling organic produce than tobacco. "I got into organic for the money," he says with a smile. "But I'm staying with it, because it's the right thing to do."
Brian Halweil is a Senior Researcher at the Worldwatch Institute.