The workshop leader felt it was important to distinguish tobacco as a plant from the corporate cigarette industry. Clearly, the evils of that industry, which include purposefully misleading advertising, marketing to kids, destructive agricultural techniques, chemical adulteration, dangerous working conditions (especially outside the U.S.), are undeniable. The tobacco plant itself, however, has been used as a medicinal or sacred plant by many other cultures for thousands of years. Moderate use of organic, sustainably grown tobacco in a non-abusive manner is a totally different thing than going through a pack of Camel Lights a day. (How many people in our addiction-addled, irresponsible culture could use tobacco that way is a big question of course!) In any case, living a life as least dependent on corporations as possible is always a worthy goal, and growing your own tobacco can be part of that. |
Tobacco normally grows in hot, or even tropical climates. The summer here in Cascadia can be good tobacco-growing weather, though, and our workshop leader has successfully been raising it here for five seasons. The plants want rich soil and lots of sun. Like corn and some other vegetables, tobacco takes a lot of nitrogen from the soil, so growing it in the same place every year is not advised unless you seed nitrogen-fixing cover crops like beans or clover in those areas in between. Curing the leaves so they can be smoked is more of a challenge, it sounds like. They should be hung out of sunlight in a place that is humid enough that they don't dry too fast, but not so wet that they mold. My buddy, who has lived in Virginian, told me that in the U.S. South they have special curing barns with vertically slatted walls that open and shut for the purpose of creating the right conditions. The trickiness of this step leads corporate tobacco processors to use chemicals and preservatives. Some of these articifical substances (and those that are sprayed on the fields while they're growing or mixed into the leaves afterwards) are doubtless responsible for some of the ill health effects of smoking corporate tobacco.
After the main part of the presentation was done, we sampled some of the workshop leader's homegrown leaf. As someone who smokes, i found this quite enjoyable. The flavor, smell, and effects were much different than the organic American Spirit i usually spark up. Kind of like having a food fresh for the first time after only having eaten it canned or frozen. He also had this chunk of processed tobacco (the name of which i can't remember right now, darn it!!) that we sampled. This chunk was created by wrapping tobacco leaves in palm fronds, tying the fronds closed, and twisting them tight. After some time, the result is a hard block of chocolatey-smelling substance that you shave into tiny pieces in order to smoke. This stuff was more like pipe or cigar smoke and you didn't want to inhale it. It was too thick. You can also chew it. i tried a little of it that way, but it was too intense (giving me an almost instant light-headed buzz) and i spit it out. A bit of the juice went down into my stomach, too, which made my insides pretty unhappy. So i won't be doing that again, though experiencing the buzz made me see why people might enjoy it.
He also sent us home with tobacco plant starts and seeds if we wanted them! The seed he has is called Cuban Seed (though he got them in the Dominican Republic) and he has grown them for five seasons now. i'll be trying to grow the starts in a couple different locations to see how they do, some in containers and some in the ground. Ultimately, i love the idea of cutting down smoking enough that i only smoke what i grow, but that means facing two challenges: raising the plants and smoking less. Wish me luck with both!
Smoking is a contentious issue, as the announcement of this event revealed (see here). This workshop attempted to clear the air a bit (no pun intended) and free the tobacco plant from its currently derided position, and point out that (once more) it's not nature that's at fault, but the way that humans abuse it (and by so doing, abuse themselves).