Tobacco, Gift From the New World

September 25, 2012 / Local Interest
Piegaro, Umbria
Three of the main crops in Umbria are olives, wine grapes and tobacco, which also rotate with wheat and sunflowers. Each year it’s a toss up as to which of these crops will be in the field below Piegaro and across the river. Luca Sargentini, from a family that has farmed organically for many generations, says that their tobacco goes into making the finest cigars.

Tobacco and sunflowers are perhaps the most beautiful of crops. Girasole (turn+sun) fill the fields with their happy yellow faces from July through August, while the pink flowers of the tobacco plants perfume the fields in September.

Each year you can follow this crop from the first small plants poking up through carefully tilled soil until they are taller than those who will harvest them in mid-September. Working for weeks, the bevy of braccianti agricoli, also tabacchine (seasonal tobacco workers), make two passes to cut the leaves. Men and women dwarfed by tall plants cut the leaves, and runners carry them to the telaini (racks) designed to impale the leaves on pali (poles). Then they are hung for the essiccazione (drying out) in the seccatoi (curing rooms) with heating kilns.

The weathered face of Elsa, who Luca calls “The Mother of Us All”, tells the story of many September suns. She is just as vigorous today at the age of seventy-two as the day of her first harvest when she was barely a teen.

Anyway you cut it, tobacco is a thriving crop in Umbria, a gift from the New World.


Colleen Simpson

by Colleen Simpson

Colleen followed a long-held dream and made a home in Piegaro, which is a pristine medieval glass-making village south of Lago Trasimeno in Umbria. She is the innkeeper at www.anticavetreria.net.

19 Responses to “Tobacco, Gift From the New World”

  1. Linda Boccia

    While tobacco plants may look appealing and lovely in the field the tobacco they yield is devastating to the bodies that ingest them. To call them a “gift” suggests that you have never seen the raveging effects on the lives and bodies of people who smoke. Girasoles yes…tobacco NO!!!

    Reply
  2. Grazie for this piece…which prompts me to ask for
    one about organic agriculture in Italy. Here that is true with mostly small farmers – the huge agriculture industry in the US is completely chemical dependent.
    K

    Reply
  3. BLUEBERRY

    I AM SORRY FOR US ALL WHEN WE GET SEDUCED INTO SMOKING WHEN WE ARE YOUNG ( I DID ) THANK GOD I DID NOT LIKE IT BUT MY HUSBAND HAD A HARD TIME QUITTING BUT HE MADE IT MY BROTHER DIETER INCISTED ON HIS RIGHT TO SMOKE ALL HIS LIFE NOW HE DIED FROM LUNG CANCER .

    Reply
  4. Colleen Simmpson

    Well! My note has been completely misunderstood by some of you and I apologize for touching a nerve. The things that came from the “New World” of America to Italy were: tobacco, corn and tomatoes, among other things, over five hundred years ago. These were, at the time, considered “gifts”. By writing of this traditional harvest in Umbria, I am in no way promoting or approving of smoking. People are free to make their own choices. I do not smoke myself and only know a few people who do, but I do not judge them. By writing about my friends and others’ harvest I was attempting to share something traditional about my region of Italy. Please do not take this so literally as to unfairly judge my intention about what is just a small story about local agriculture. Thank you aura and Kathleen for the thumbs up. Next up: organic agriculture in Umbria!

    Reply
    • Anthony Selvaggio

      Not to worry ,i knew what you ment, yes smoking is bad and in my mind i question the people who do it. We may not have known back then but we know now.Great artical.

      Reply
  5. Paula (Giangreco) Cullison

    Buon Giorno,
    I enjoyed the article and have often thought of retuning to Umbria. So, I might just do it! Gazie for the encouragement.
    Ci vediamo.

    Reply
  6. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    mi scusi, signora
    I do not judge , yet I recognize when something has become a scourge to Italia

    Reply
  7. Michael Brett

    Thankyou for the interesting article. I appreciate it in the way it was intended. Some people just need to complain to feel happy. Please keep posting on what ever you find interesting to share.

    Reply
  8. Lynn Davidoff

    I’m guessing you must be a smoker. In my opinion, tobacco is not a gift, but a plague.

    Reply
  9. Yes, it has become a scourge, not just to Italy but the whole of Europe. However, organically grown tobacco is not to blame. The tobacco becomes devastating to all who injest it when over 100 chemicals have gradually been added, including the very toxic paper the tobacco is rolled into.
    My maternal grandfather had a similar farm in Italy in the 1930’s. All organic. My grandfather rolled his own organic tobacco in corn-husks. Smoked his whole life, died cancer free. Organic tobacco without chemicals doesn’t trigger adiction, so it doesn’t cause abuse. The organic corn-husk was also chemical free. The aroma is very pleasant in organic tobacco compared to the stench of burning chemicals we think is tobacco today. For the sake of future generations, we MUST return to organic farming.
    Thanks for a wonderful article Colleen, and that beautiful foto of Elsa’s natural face.

    Reply
  10. Colleen Simmpson

    Grazie, CR for the wonderful explanation about organic tobacco! I did not know about the organic corn-husk. All of my farmer friends in Umbria farm organically. I think Umbria has led most regions in Italy in environmental awareness, recycling and also collective farming. My own Piegaro won an award for being one of the top communes in Umbria for recycling paper, plastic, glass, tin and organic waste! Piegaro’s modern vetreria is the largest producer of glass jars and bottles in Europe and recycles 83%. Vetreria Cooperativa Piegarese is a collective owned by all the workers. It has been a collective for over 70 years. My little note has triggered a very interesting discussion. And I am very happy to share Elsa’s natural beauty!

    Reply
  11. I agree that smoking is dangerous to the health, but this wonderful article is about farming and the beautiful countryside. Can’t we just enjoy that and not make judgements about other people’s choices.

    Reply
  12. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    It is obvious that you are not truly Italian, If you were you would understand hat comment and view on any matter is just that. We need to express view without taking animistic attitudes. I do not apologize for having a view on matters after all this is an open forum

    Reply
  13. Anne Robichaud

    Enjoyed your piece, Colleen..and the photos..but as mentioned above, perhaps not a “gift” from the New World?!

    Thanks for sharing your note and info, though

    Reply
  14. Colleen Simmpson

    Alright folks. This story was an homage to a wonderful family, their workers and Elsa. If Anne doesn’t like it then perhaps my title is not the best. It is merely a literary reference to “gifts from the New World” which has always referred to the crops that were brought over to Europe from America. This is a story about some friends’ organic agricultural harvest not a statement about smoking pro or con. I wish to emphasize that I am NOT A SMOKER. But I do appreciate agricultural traditions as practiced by my friends in Umbria. Other “gifts” from the New World: maize, tomato, chili pepper, potato, green bean, lima bean,squash (including zuccini), pumpkin, cacao, avocado, papaya, cashew, rubber, pineapple, passion fruit and sunflower. Perhaps I will limit my stories to crops that are chock full of vitamins if I can remove my tongue from my cheek…….

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  15. Anne Robichaud

    Colleen, sorry for any misunderstanding: as indicated, enjoyed your note, the photos – and meeting that family.
    Just mentioned that tobacco perhaps was not a “gift”…!….

    :)

    again, compliments on the article!

    Reply
  16. An old Roman expression “Pecunia non olet” explains a lot. “Money does not stink” means, in contemporary English, “take the money, don’t question the source.” Unfortunately, too many people and too many governments have a financial interest in the noxious stuff: it’s a taxable cash crop. When explorers brought the use of tobacco to the Old World, they should also have brought some cultural perspective: Native American use of tobacco was communal and ceremonial ~ therefore infrequent. No one chain-smoked. No one foresaw today’s health problems.

    Reply

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