iconic American symbols, tobacco farms are gradually disappearing. It
is difficult for many people to lament the loss of a crop that has come
to symbolize addiction, disease, and corporate deception; yet, in
Kentucky, the plant has played an important role in economic
development and prosperity. Burley tobacco―a light, air-cured variety
used in cigarette production―has long been the Commonwealth's largest
cash crop and an important aspect of regional identity, along with
bourbon, bluegrass music, and Thoroughbred horses.
|In Burley: Kentucky Tobacco in a New Century,
Ann K. Ferrell investigates the rapidly transforming process of raising
and selling tobacco by chronicling her conversations with the farmers
who know the crop best. She demonstrates that although the 2004
"buyout" ending the federal tobacco program is commonly perceived to be
the most significant change that growers have had to negotiate, it is,
in reality, only one new factor among many.
Burley reveals the tangible and intangible challenges tobacco farmers
face today, from the logistics of cultivation to the growing stigma
against the crop.
Ferrell uses ethnography, archival research, and rhetorical analysis to
tell the complex story of burley tobacco production in
twenty-first-century Kentucky. Not only does she give a voice to the
farmers who persevere in this embattled industry, but she also sheds
light on their futures, contesting the widely held assumption that they
can easily replace the crop by diversifying their operations with
alternative crops. As tobacco fades from both the physical and economic
landscapes, this nuanced volume documents and explores the culture and
practices of burley production today.