Dark fired tobacco is one of the hardest crops to produce on a farm, but many western Kentucky farmers have been growing it for several years despite the challenges.
“Farming in the Black Patch,” a 60-minute film set to air on KET and PBS in February, documents the seasonal process of growing dark fired tobacco and the history behind the crop’s production in this region, – particularly in Calloway County.
The film premiered at 6 p.m. on Monday in the Curris Center Theater with a small reception after for those involved with the film.
Michael Breeding, producer and director of the film, began shooting it in 2009. He documented different seasons, with different workers, to give the film visual variety.
The Smith and Cunningham farms located in Calloway County were featured in the film.
It was Billy Smith Sr.’s daughter, Bobbie Smith Bryant, who proposed the idea for the movie.
“Bobbie Bryant, the Smith family’s daughter, came to me wanting to do some films for the farm for tourists on rainy days and I suggested to her we should do a documentary,” Breeding said.
Breeding’s goal in creating the movie is to show how the tobacco farms in the region operate.
“(The film) shows what life is like on the farm, but more importantly for someone like myself who’s from the Bluegrass region, we’ve never seen dark fire tobacco,” Breeding said. “So it’s really going to showcase to the world this culture that’s really in these Western Tennessee and Western Kentucky counties.”
The movie displays footages of the farmers and the migrant workers planting the crop.
Once it is fully grown, they take the tobacco to the barns. Wood sawdust slabs are used to make the fire to burn the plant.
Farmers create two to four fires for the tobacco, the first fire is to change the color, the second fire is to take the sap out of the stem and the rest of the fires are to give the tobacco smoke and finish.
Danny Cunningham, owner of Cunningham farms, said he has always loved farming and has done it most of his life. Despite the health issues, he knows tobacco has helped several families in the community.
“I know that tobacco has an issue with health, but it has put a lot of people through school here at Murray State,” Cunningham said. “Tobacco’s always been a no. 1 crop for Calloway County and kept a lot of families going.”
Billy Smith, retired farmer of Smith Farms, enjoyed being a part of the film because he also grew up and worked on a tobacco farm for many years.
“This feature and this video that was presented here tonight is a way of life. It helped (Murray State) get established, keeps Murray State running,” Smith said. “It’s good for the economy, the kids get a good education, it’s a way to make money in an area where sometimes you might not be able to make any money.”
Several guests attended the screening including many participants and sponsors of the film.
Story by Dominique Duarte, Staff writer.