Something about the sight of a tobacco field soothes my soul. The green fields conjure up images of simpler times in my mind.
Controversial statement? Perhaps. That doesn’t make it untrue. I doubt I’m the only one who experiences nostalgia when passing a field of backer. Tobacco was king of North Carolina agriculture for more than a century.
From the coast to Appalachia, tobacco production allowed folks to pay their bills, feed their families, and buy necessities that couldn’t be made at home.
Whole communities came together during tobacco season. They helped one another plant, harvest, and cure the crops.
It’s a history most North Carolinians have in common.
All of my great-grandparents were sharecroppers at one point or another. I have no doubt they grew backer. If they didn’t, their ancestors did.
Brandon’s family grew tobacco. When he and his brother got in trouble as teenagers, Papa Clark shipped them off to their cousin’s house to work in the backer fields. Neither of them have fond memories of the experience.
Praise Jesus, I never had to do that. I don’t remember any of my relatives growing it. But I do remember when the whole state felt like one big tobacco farm. In the ’80s, you couldn’t tell where one farm ended and the next began.
There were 8,000 tobacco farms by 2004. Only 1,300 remain.
Up near Raleigh, farms have been replaced by subdivisions and apartment complexes that look like foreign invaders from a distant land.
In rural areas, decaying tobacco barns are sentinels of abandoned fields. They litter the countryside draped in kudzu shrouds.
The remaining fields are a sight for sore eyes. I suppose that’s why they bring me comfort – they’re like a big hug and a welcome home.