Alfred Reed Bishop and Doris William Butler

The picture above is the very tap root of Bishop's Homegrown/Face Of The Earth Seed. My grandparents shortly after moving to Pekin Indiana from Greensburg KY in 1947 where they purchased the farm that is now Bishop's Homegrown. This picture was taken in Pekin in front of the old co-op next to the old railroad depot, neither of which exist today.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Returning to our roots: Growing tobacco for sacramental and economic purposes.

I always make it a point to let readers here know just exactly how I got my feet and hands firmly planted in the mud and muck of this farm; as a young child helping my grandparents and parents raise burley tobacco for market. We haven't grown tobacco as a commercial crop in many years, minus some growouts for seed production, but I am finding now is the time to turn back to it and see it as the sacrament it is and not the cheap drug it has become.

There are many reasons I have decided to turn back to tobacco cultivation (on a small percentage of the farm). The largest of course is my friend Bill Drake's The Cultivators Handbook of Natural Tobacco as well as a will and an interest in figuring out what tobacco was vs. what we see it as today, learning to revere it's shamanic qualities, and most of all respect it.

One: Trade and Barter.

You'll notice, if your observant, that the news is full of all kinds of negative stories nowdays, and nearly everywher you look people are "preparing" for something....even if it's something they don't fully understand. All around us we can see signs and visions of what might or might not be around the corner, but it's always better to be prepared than unprepared.

This is the primary motivator (secondary only to my love for farming) here at Bishop's Homegrown, the preparation for hard times, be it for any number of reasons, we should always be ready even if in hindsight we realize that a situation is blown out of proportion. If we ponder just how unnatural the world around us (humankind) has been constructed, built up, and pushed like propaganda down our throats in the last 150 years, it doesn't take a genious to realize just how fragile the system is. Those who are preparing likely already know the basics; seed saving, canning, butchering, hunting, bartering, fishing, cooking, ext.

What we should also be prepared for is the art of the barter, realizing that what people need and what people want are two different things and that learning to brew a bit of beer or wine or distilling moonshine, or growing illicit herbs (I'm not encouraging this, just saying!) for a possible future trade market, are just as important of skills as any "survival" skills you might have.

One item we often overlook is tobacco and even if were growing it, few of us know or truly understand how to properly cure it to remove the harshness. It is an art, one that is practiced with due dilligence.

Two: Reverence and Respect

I'm a freaking chain smoker. It's my one true vice. That said, I have cut back tremendously and switched over to American Spirit blend while I stand on the precipice of quitting (minus an ocassional pipe of natural homegrown tobacco or cigar in celebration or spiritual quest). I have no "respect" for the tobacco plant because I have abused it, more than that I and many family members and friends have been abused by the tobacco industry who maliciously sell us additive laced, compressed, rehydrated tobacco scrap mixed with paper and other unknown substances. It is because of these I need to reteach myself what tobacco is, why it is what it is, and what that amazing compound known as Nicotine was actually placed here for.

This will also allow me to grow tobacco for friends and family and help free them of the same chains that currently bind me.

Three: Economics regardless

Since I'm in the midst of getting the seed company off the ground and since theres a ton of other smokers out there willing to grow their own either because the price of store bought tobacco is outrageous or because they know what the tobacco companies are putting in their ciggarettes, it only makes financial sense to grow a crop and let it go to seed and to make some Ohio Valley adapted crosses and genepools available in the coming years.

Also however, looking into the laws (or lack therof) regarding the cultivation and sale of tobacco in Indiana I would be remiss not to mention that the idea of selling whole, unprocessed leaf of different types to connisiours and supernauts has crossed my mind.

This brings me to my next point. Tobbaco seed: A Sacred Gift

Often times when plant and animal breeders are looking for special traits they will turn their attention to wild species to search for little known traits, tobbacco is no different and any number of "wild" species do exist, but only one has a long history of cultivation going back to pre-columbian times, tying into the Virginia Colony and spanning such a vast geography, it is also considered highly sacred and has been used to offer blessings to the gods, to commune with the heavens, and to conjure up spirits throught the millenia.

Nicotiana Rustica.

It is very strong medicine one might say with a nicotine content hovering at about 10% as opposed to the tobaccum species which rates at 1-3% roughly.

Bill Drake founded the original Santa Fe tobacco company on this venerable sacrament in the late 70's/early 80's. It is for all intents and purposes to be considered a psychoactive herb with specific traits attuned to those with the ability and understanding to respect it.

Many different "cultivars" of Rustica exist and it is still used, only sparingly, in some pipe, cigar, and cigarette blends, but Bill was kind enough to share his strain with me. According to his book Tobacco Culture: The Cultivators Handbook Of Natural Tobacco the seeds were gifted to him by a friend who found them in a grave in New Mexico (likely that of a high ranking Shaman). Bill grew the seed and sampled the product and was astonished. To me this is the stuff of legend and truth.

My tobacco growing will be based around this venerable strain, a gift that a fellow walker as it were, shared with me but Bill was also kind enough to send along many other favorites of his which will make the list this season as well. I plan to grow in isolation and bag flowers for purity and to experiment with many different curing methods now that I have rebuilt my familial tobacco barn.

Of high interest to me is seeing how Nicotiana Rustica responds to the curing process that currently yields the well known, high quality, highly aromatic turkish, and what the right blend is for the casual smoker vs. what is safe for those wishing to see things as they truly are.

Friends from the world over have also shared unique cultivars of Rustica with me as well, another I'm interested in is called variously Mahorka or Machorka, it was apparently grown and smoked casually by the peasant class in the old soviet union up until the introduction of commercial tobaccos. Perhaps I feel a connection to it as a peasant as it has roots running deeply in that community as I do here on this farm and at my deepest tap am attuned still after all these years to tobacco culture.

Bill was also kind enough to send me one of these amazing t-shirts! E-mail him for prices directly at his site.

I strongly urge any of you interested in tobacco cultivation to check out the book as well, look at it as if you were buying a text book for a require college course in your profession, in the long run you may very well thank me for the suggestion.

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