Children Farming the Land
The tobacco field is no place for a child! [Gabriel Thompson, “Leaves of Poison,” Dec. 2, 2013] I grew up in south Georgia, where summer consisted of cropping tobacco. A harvester, with a crew of twelve or thirteen, was pulled through the tobacco fields by a tractor under the relentless south Georgia sun. The cropper cut the leaves by hand and handed them to the stringer, who strung them with cotton twine onto a tobacco stick, taken off by a stick man. Work started around 7 am after the dew—or irrigation—had flooded the leaves, the water from which covered the cropper and stringer. You’d be drenched and freezing all morning.
Come 1 pm, you’d be back in the field, now hot and dry, and as the afternoon wore on, the black, sticky tobacco tar would cover your arms, legs and hair. Soap alone wouldn’t take it off.
Tobacco poisoning was a rite of passage. You’d spend your first day less than hungry and your first night wrapped around a toilet throwing up. Sometimes, big watery blisters would develop on areas where the morning tobacco water and afternoon tobacco tar kept the skin flooded or smothered. The work was wet, hot, sticky and dangerous.
It was no place for a kid.
Farming can be dangerous, but I wouldn’t trade my farming childhood for anything [Mariya Strauss, “Dying on the Farm,” Dec. 2]. I hope and pray that my children can have the kind of life I had. Farming is not a job; it is a way of life. A 15-year-old living in the suburbs is a different animal from the 15-year-old on a farm, who has been working for years. Michael Steele was capable of doing his job at 15. His was a tragic accident, and should be viewed as such—not as a reason to involve the government in family farms.
Thank you so much for reprinting Wendell Berry’s poem “November 26, 1963” [“JFK: ‘The Light of All His Lost Days,’” Dec. 2].