Shade tobacco

It is not well known[citation needed] that the northern US states of Connecticut and Massachusetts are also two of the most important tobacco-growing regions in the country. Long before Europeans arrived in the area, Native Americans cultivated tobacco along the banks of the Connecticut River. Today, the Connecticut River valley north of Hartford, Connecticut is known as "Tobacco Valley", and the fields and drying sheds are visible to travelers on the road to and from Bradley International Airport, the major Connecticut airport. Connecticut shade tobacco is grown under tents to protect plant leaves from direct sunlight. This imitates the conditions of tobacco plants growing in the shade of trees in tropical areas. The result are leafs of lighter color and of a more delicate structure. They are used as outer wrappers for some of the world's finest cigars. It is not entirely clear who introduced this method of growing tobacco, but it is likely that the New York firm of Schroeder & Bon or its founder Frederick A. Schroeder were instrumental in developing this agricultural innovation. Early Connecticut colonists acquired from the Native Americans the habit of smoking tobacco in pipes and began cultivating the plant commercially, even though the Puritans referred to it as the "evil weed". The plant was outlawed in Connecticut in 1650, but in the 19th century as cigar smoking began to be popular, tobacco farming became a major industry, employing farmers, laborers, local youths, southern African Americans, and migrant workers. Working conditions varied from backbreaking work for young local children, ages 13 and up, to backbreaking exploitation of migrants. Each tobacco plant yields only 18 leaves useful as cigar wrappers, and each leaf requires a great deal of individual manual attention during harvesting. Although the temperature in the curing sheds sometimes exceeds 38 C (100 F), no work is done inside the sheds while the tobacco is being fired. In 1921, Connecticut tobacco production peaked, at 31,000 acres (125 km?) under cultivation. The rise of cigarette smoking and the decline of cigar smoking have caused a corresponding decline in the demand for shade tobacco, reaching a minimum in 1992 of 2,000 acres (8 km?) under cultivation. Since then, however, cigar smoking has become more popular again, and in 1997 tobacco farming had risen to 4,000 acres (16 km?). However, only 1,050 acres (4.2 km?) of shade tobacco were harvested in the Connecticut Valley in 2006. Connecticut seed is being grown in Ecuador, where labor is very cheap. The industry has weathered some major catastrophes, including a devastating hailstorm in 1929, and an epidemic of brown spot fungus in 2000, but is now in danger of disappearing altogether, given the value of the land to real estate speculators. The older and much less labor intensive Broadleaf plant, which produces an excellent maduro wrapper as well as binder and filler for cigars, is increasing in area in the Connecticut Valley. Tobacco farming in Connecticut has a long history. When the first settlers came to the valley in the 1630s, tobacco was already being grown by the native population. By 1700, tobacco was being exported via the Connecticut River to European ports. The use of Connecticut tobacco as a cigar wrapper leaf began in the 1820s. By the 1830s, tobacco farmers were experimenting with different seeds and processing techniques. Area farmers grew tobacco for the two outside layers of cigars, the binder and the wrapper. A tobacco leaf type named Shoestring, then Broadleaf and Havana Seed were used. In the late 19th century a fine grained leaf type imported from Sumatra began to replace the wrapper from the Connecticut River valley. The tobacco farmers matched the Sumatran leaf by making shade tents of cloth to cut sunlight and raise humidity. The first tent was raised in 1900 on River Street in Windsor. Windsor tobacco leaves are highly prized by fine cigar makers, and are used as the cigar's outer wrapping. The former president of U.S. operations for Davidoff, a Swiss maker of luxury goods including premium Cuban cigars, praised Connecticut shade tobacco as "A nice Connecticut wrapper" and "ůvery silky, very fine. From a marketing point of view, it is considered at the moment to be one of the best tasting and looking wrappers available" in a Cigar Aficionado article on why the world's best cigars use Connecticut tobacco wrapper leaves. The technique of growing shade tobacco has changed little in the past hundred years. To form the shade tents, a tobacco field is set with posts in a grid layout. Wires are stretched from post to post, and a light, durable fabric (once cotton but now a synthetic fiber) is tied across them and draped along the sides. For example, twenty posts in four rows of five will create twelve square cells in three rows of four. Under the tents the sunlight is soft and diffused the air is humid and the ambient temperature is slightly warmer than outside. Filtering the sun produces a thinner and more elastic tobacco leaf that cures to a lighter, even color often desired by the Cuban and Dominican cigar producers. At its height, there was greater than 15,000 acres (61 km2) of tobacco being cultivated under shade in the Connecticut River valley. Currently, the amount of tobacco being grown in the valley is just over a steady 2,000 acres (8.1 km2). Approximately 34,000 acres (140 km2) of land in Connecticut is covered by Windsor Soil, named after the town of Windsor, Connecticut, famous for its shade grown tobacco.