Burley: Kentucky Tobacco in a New Century


Burley: Kentucky Tobacco in a New Century


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Tobacco farms, once an iconic symbol of American history, are disappearing from the landscape. It is difficult for many people to view the loss of tobacco as lamentable. For many Kentuckians, however, the loss of what was historically the state's largest cash crop and an important symbol of regional identity has vast economic and cultural consequences. This book examines changes faced by burley tobacco farmers in Central Kentucky over the course of the 20th century and into the 21st—from changing farm technologies, labor sources, and marketing practices and circumstances, to changed social and political understandings of the crop they grow—and the consequences of those changes. The book describes the steps involved in raising burley tobacco and how these steps have changed over the years, as learned through folklore fieldwork: through time spent on Kentucky farms and in recorded interviews with farmers. The book then traces tobacco's move—during the lives of today's farmers—from a symbol of Kentucky heritage to a stigmatized crop. Finally, the book examines the nostalgia generated by these changes and the question that tobacco farmers are increasingly asked: “Why don’t you raise something else?”—a question with as many answers as there are farmers. This book examines some of those answers.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY




978-0-8131-4235-7 (pdf version)


978-0-8131-4234-0 (epub version)




Burley, Tobacco, Kentucky, Folklore, Heritage, Agriculture, Landscape, Regional identity, Change


Cultural History | History