Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shade Tobacco

One of the interesting sights as you travel about the back roads of our Connecticut Valley is the sight of acres and acres of white tents. These tents shade the valuable Shade Tobacco Crop. The Connecticut Valley is a major source of some of the world's finest wrapper leaves. This golden colored wrapper tobacco is highly regarded and praised by many cigar makers and connoisseurs. Connecticut Shade, which emanated from the Hazelwood strain of Cuban seed, is shade-grown under huge tents to protect the delicate leaf.

Also from this area is Connecticut Broad Leaf. Grown in the sun, this wrapper tobacco is coarser, darker and produces a sweeter taste. The Broadleaf tobacco is in front of the tobacco barn. Shade tobacco is used as the outermost layer of high-end cigar brands like Davidoff, Macanudo and Arturo Fuente . Renowned worldwide for producing the large, caramel-colored, smooth-veined leaf favored by high-end cigar makers, it sells itself.
The shade is required to protect the delicate leaves. One good leaf will only wrap about 4 cigars.

This is not a mechanized process for harvesting. The man on the right is ridding a bicycle mechanized conveyor belt and that is about as good as it gets. Harvesting the leaves often requires workers to crawl the rows on their hands and knees picking the leaves.

This picture is showing the crop at the end with only one more picking left on the leaves. Then the shade will be repaired and rolled up awaiting next year’s crops.

Like many Connecticut Valley kids, my wife worked tobacco in the summers starting when she turned 13. The days were hard, hot and dirty as she worked in the sheds sewing the tobacco on laths. The money was pretty good for a 13 year old. 65 cents per hour. Workers were brought in from Puerto Rico as migrants to work the crop in the summer. It is the state of Connecticut’s No. 1 agricultural export in dollars, bringing in more than $30 million a year, according to the federal Department of Agriculture. In MA it is 5th with $12 million in exports.

This photo shows a newly constructed tobacco barn and notice the boards pulled out on the sides. These siding boards are pulled out to allow the crop hanging inside to dry. The tobacco is picked in the fields, hung on trailers for transportation to the barns where they are sewn onto laths and hung in the barn. To view an old barn with leaves hanging just follow the hyperlink above


Anonymous said...

Wow, does this bring back memories. I picked and dragged tobacco out of some of those fields in the Suffield, CT area back in 1974-1976. It was my first job and it was hot and dirty work.

Ted said...

Thanks for the comment Anonymous. It still is hot and dirty. Not much mechanization to it. Just hard work.

Wayne said...

My Great Grandfather, Mr. John E. Lathrop, along with other relatives, (Morgan Bradley, the Johnsons, Carolls (Wesley,who worked in insurace for many years, and the Forbes of East Hartford) grew shade tobacco in the early part of the last century. John Lathrop died while trying to avoid a school bus on a rain slick road in 1938 while driving his 1938 Buick. If anyone out there has a picture of his original farm house, I would appreciate it if you could contact me. Thank You very much. My number is 860-584-1173. My name is Wayne.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for sharing the pictures and info on this great tobacco wrapper. I was wondering how long this tobacco is grown under the shade covering? It would seem this would stunt the growth of the plant.

Anonymous said...

I am looking for others from Florida...mainly the Tampa/St. Pete area who may have traveled to Conn or Mass during the 70's to work the tobacco fields. I went for three summers (77-79) and had a blast even thought the work was dirty, hot and tedious. Anyone out there who worked for CCC please get in touch with me at nickname at the camp was FEATHER!!

justus3131 said...

I, along with about 100 teenaged boys from Hillsboro County, FL., traveled to Connecticut in 1965 and spent the summer working in the tobacco fields. What an experience, and to be paid 1.05 an hour to boot. On the weekends we traveled to see the New England sights, and often times had parties with the girls tobacco camps in the region. I read once that Martin Luther King also worked in the camps in the mid fifties. I have fond memories of my experience and still occasionally talked to men that made the trip with me. I can still recall the tobacco secretion in my hair at the end of the day, and the many pranks we would play on each other under those tents.

Bruce Smith
Lakeland, Fl