After receiving more comments than usual on my tobacco post, I’m following it up with a second. Brian recalls raising tobacco on the Fitch Coulee Farm as late as about 1985. Conrad remembers tobacco-growing in the thirties – hoeing the crop and picking tobacco worms. That’s at least 50 years of tobacco!
Our uncle Sid tells that when he came back from out west and Odell came home from the army, they began farming together. They had three acres of tobacco – a beautiful four-foot high crop! The price was 55 cents a pound, with the $2,400 check split ways: their mother Gina, Odell, and Sid.
When Sid and Irene married and moved to her folks’ place, they applied and received a half-acre allotment. They had no shed, so used the neighbors. For the hard work including kids picking worms, they received 30 cents a pound. That must have still seemed like gold compared to depression prices which dipped to two or three cents a pound. [Irene’s going to search for a picture of Dale handing Sid plants to spear.] Another part of this picture was the tobacco pool in Westby where Odell was on the board of directors.
How important was tobacco to Norwegian American farmers? On the Fitch Coulee farm, Sid says, much of the money was used for taxes and education. Dan wrote me that tobacco helped his dad Ednar survive on the small farm in French Creek. Without a tobacco shed, they would “hang the tobacco over the machinery, in an unused chicken coop, and even in the granary over the oats.” Dan recalls reading that new immigrants were attracted to the crop because it produced more revenue per acre than any other. With tobacco money they paid for their farms, horses, and machinery.
Dan writes, “Dad [Ednar] was able to be an allotment for the farm in French Creek shortly after he got there (.67 of an acre). It was customary to find someone who no longer wanted their allotment and apply for it. Some people rented others’ allotments, which stayed with the farm when it was sold…. The last allotment on the Borreson farm was five acres” which Brian utilized when he was farming. (Dan goes on to tell of seeing tobacco in the field at the farms of Sid, Odell, and Garven – and he thought Edwin and Bennie raised it too.)
Dan adds, “In the sixties when my dad last raised a crop (1968), about 40 farms in Trempealeau County were raising tobacco. We were related a majority of them!” His mother Stella’s family (Ludvig Berg) was included – and the Trempealeau County Care Center.
We’ll conclude with this personal story from Dan, an experience with the Blair High School Future Farmers of America (FFA). “Each year the group would have a crop of potatoes as a fundraiser. The ag teacher that year, David Schaefer (also our third cousin), thought we could make more money if we raised tobacco since I knew something about it. We learned that Willard Johnson of Vosse Coulee had an allotment of two acres he would let us use. We plant just over an acre. What an experience: I was the only in the class who had ever done that much work. Can you imagine a school district raising tobacco today?!
Apparently old tobacco warehouses in Stoughton and Viroqua have been restored – and if you visit, you can still catch a whiff of the original product.