Day Five – Not A Day For Old Men

Today I worked in the tobacco fields and I can tell you that this is certainly a job for the younger generation. 

Driving onto the farm I was treated to see a field which had recently been planted.

This is just one of AJ Fernandez’s fields and this one is just down the road from the factory.  Further into this field is the section I had the pleasure of working in.  

While I still had my wits about me, I decided to take a picture from down below just to see how it would turn out.  I had a great big silly grin on my face as I laid down on terra forma to take this picture.  I’m just glad no one saw me goofing off for just a moment to take this picture.

Language was a true barrier today, more so than the any other day during the week.  Today it was truly watch and mimic.  That wasn’t too difficult, and it did make for a quiet day.

Today’s task was to pick the first priming of the stalk.  I was shown that I needed to pick the bottom four leaves.  Did I do this perfectly?  Absolutely not.  I’d get distracted and there were a number of times when I picked more than I was supposed to.  There were also times when I missed the first leaf which was literally laying on the ground, meaning I’d pick a fifth leaf.  And there were times I’d only pick three leaves.  Repetitive counting small groups of numbers turned out to be a challenge for me as well; 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, and so on.  I’d like to think I could count to four over and over without any trouble and that didn’t always turn out to be the truth.  Add to that the mistake of cracking the viens on leaves further up the stalk while moving down the row of tobacco.  I kept thinking, after each inadvertent snap, “Well, I just lost AJ money.”

The stalk on the left, in the picture above, has been picked while the stalk on the right has not. 

Now I have to be honest.  I psyched myself out shortly after starting to pick the tobacco which did nothing but put me in the mental space of “Why the hell am I doing this?”  By mid-morning the gang from UP IN SMOKE, in Clarksville Tennessee, came by the field on their factory tour.  Speaking with them for just five minutes reinvigorated me.  And it was still a tough day.  Bending over, repeatedly, crawling along the ground, and there were times I scooted along on my behind.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that I was the slowest picker in the field that day.  We’d all start together in one section and by the time I finished my row the rest of the crew were two or three sections ahead of me.  That didn’t discourage me as I knew I was working as hard as I could and I hope that the leaders in the fields recognized that.  

There were a few things that surprised me.  The stalk of the tobacco plant is thick with a RG (ring gauge – common language I’m using as a descriptor) around 40-50.  It actually surprised me that the tobacco plant is fibrous.  The other thing I didn’t expect was how “juicy” the tobacco pant is.  With each leave removed I was coated in a free-flowing sap.  I was literally drinking the sap by the days end.  

If you didn’t know, tobacco leaves are removed primarily in three stages called primings; the lowest section, which is removed first, is called seco, the middle section, which is removed second, is called viso, and the final section is the ligero at the top of the plant.  It is up to the field master to determine when a section of the plant needs picking.  I do know that after the seco is removed it’ll be somewhere between seven-to-ten days before the viso is removed.  The same goes for the ligero.  I also learned that the time between primings was to allow the reaming leaves to continue to receive nutrients so their flavors and strength can mature.  Seco is used in the filler and provides combustion, viso is used for wrapper/biner, and ligero is mostly in the filler and provides a huge punch of strength.

Until tomorrow… Long Ashes!