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Whereas most crops drive farmers apart as they compete for the best prices, the price controls on tobacco bring growers together. The result is a culture unlike any other in America, one often forgotten or overlooked as federal and state governments fight over the spoils of the tobacco settlement. Tobacco Culture describes the process of raising a crop of burley from the perspective and experience of the farmers themselves. In the process of gathering information for the book, the authors performed most steps in the tobacco production process, from dropping plants, burning seedbeds, topping, and cutting to stripping and baling the finished product. Van Willigen and Eastwood document both present practices and historical developments in tobacco farming at the very moment a way of life stands poised for dramatic change. In addition to growing practices, the authors found other common threads linking growers and tobacco producing regions. Where tobacco is grown, it often becomes the major cash crop and carries the health of the economy. Farmer Oscar Richardson states, “It’s bread and butter. It’s the industry of the community, the state as a whole. . . . You take tobacco out of Kentucky and this farmland wouldn’t be worth a nickel.” Combining cultural anthropology and oral history, John van Willigen and Susan Eastwood have created a remarkable portrait of the heart of the burley belt in Central Kentucky.

Relays in vivid terms the extraordinary process of cultivating this most delicate and difficult plant. -- Agricultural History

Commendable for publishing a body of intrinsically interesting local knowledge that would otherwise be hidden away in Kentucky archives. -- American Anthropologist

Uses interviews from scores of farmers, giving a perspective not often found in books about the industry. -- G21 Books

Compared with other books about the controversial but colorful history of tobacco in America, Tobacco Culture is valuable precisely because its authors understand the work. . . . This book allows farmers to speak for themselves. -- Lexington Herald-Leader

An understanding of the cultural significance and history of a crop that, as much as horse races and beautiful women and whiskey, has defined Kentucky life. -- Southern Seen

A much needed examination at a time of incredible change, Tobacco Culture effectively utilizes oral histories to offer first-hand accounts of tobacco production in the words of tobacco farmers themselves. -- Terry Birdwhistell

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Tobacco, Burley, Kentucky


Cultural History

Tobacco Culture: Farming Kentucky's Burley Belt
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