Tobacco was a Borreson crop for four generations, maybe five, depending how one does the counting. I thought I had written my last post on this subject, but when I recently came upon some good Borreson stories from the eighties, I couldn’t resist another post.
In the eighties, Odell was still raising tobacco on the old “home place.” And how do I know this? Because his son-in-law Richard Gillingham said so in 1982, and that’s where Richard’s family got the idea to try it on their farm.
Richard was married to Lesley, Odell’s daughter. In addition to other jobs, they were farming with their two sons, Derek and John, in Edson Township, Chippewa County, Wisconsin, when they got the idea to try tobacco in this northern part of the state. One paper speculated that their tobacco farm might be the northernmost in our country! Tobacco was novel enough in the area by the 1980s that for three successive years, 1982-1984, newspapers featured articles about the Gillingham venture. If they raised the crop beyond those years, Lesley could tell us, I’m sure.
In the spring of 1982, the family began this venture with an allotment of 3/4 of an acre. There was no tobacco raising without an allotment. And because tobacco is so labor intensive, it was a family venture–although Richard is quoted as saying it’s “a nice little cash crop…for the boys, a part-time project, too.” The Gillinghams even added a new tobacco shed to their property.
This was the first tobacco raising in Chippewa County for more than 35 years. In 1940, with tobacco growing going downhill in northern Wisconsin, 10 county farmers had raised but 18 acres, much of the tobacco around Bloomer. Then it was gone–until the Gillinghams revived it!
In 1981 tobacco was a 30 million dollar crop in Wisconsin, with most of the tobacco raised in the southern part of the state due to a longer growing season. Still, the Gillinghams were hoping for a crop in the average range of 2,000 to 2,500 pound per acre. They were, as were most other growers in the state, members of the Northern Wisconsin Tobacco Cooperative in Viroqua. There they would sell their crop t00, hopefully for about $1.00 a pound.
In their first year, their crop lagged about two weeks behind Odell’s. A late spring was the culprit. Les’s dad had his crop in the shed at a time the Gillinghams were just beginning their harvest (around September 20). After months in the shed, come a warm day in January, the leaves would be packed in bales, one step closer to the market. Wisconsin tobacco has typically been used for cigar filler and wrapper, or as Gillinghams said theirs would be used–for chewing tobacco.
With the numerous steps involved in raising this crop, the Gillinghams assured themselves of busy summers. In addition to off-the-farm jobs for Richard and Lesley, the family also raised strawberries, raspberries, cucumbers at various times as well.
So, if we look at tobacco raising by those involved in the labor, children as well as parents, Derek and John Gillingham are among those of the fifth generation in the Borreson family tree to raise this crop.