For our November Seminar, we traveled to Southside Virginia. Southwest Virginia and Southside Virginia are kindred spirts due to their involved in growing the golden leaf. There are many different types of tobacco grown for many different reasons. Southwest Virginia has traditionally grown burley tobacco (air cured) and Southside has traditionally grown flu cured tobacco (heat cured). In 2004, I was a senior in high school when the tobacco quota system ended meaning that farmers could grow as much as they wanted, but they would not received any cost assistance. Growers went from taking tobacco to auctions to contracting directly with companies. Over time, less and less tobacco is grown in the U.S. with demand mainly being in Asia. Companies can get other countries to grown tobacco cheaper. The flavor is not be the same due to quality, but they can grow it. I have had the opportunity to be around some flu cured operations in the past and grew burley tobacco myself, but I haven’t had the opportunity to visit a processing center. It was interested to see the other side after you bring the leaf in. Tobacco has meant a lot to the state of Virginia and the region. It is interesting how times change!
One thing that struck me during our visit to Southside was the pure strength of their leaders. We met leaders who were not just agriculture leaders, but leaders for their community in many different ways. Leaders who saw that it was their duty to be involved in multiple areas where they were needed. We met with not just one Sunbelt Expo Farmers of the Year, but two! Robert Mills has been a strong leader and someone I have looked up to for many years! I met him when I was 14 years old attending Youth Conservation Camp at Virginia Tech. During my week at Virginia Tech, Mr. Mills encouraged and inspired me. He has gone on to do extortionary things including winning Farmer of the Year. He has always remembered me and been supportive of me through out the years! It is funny the people you met along your path! I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Mr. McDowell who was this year’s Sunbelt Expo Farmer of the Year! One of piece of advice he gave us was to never ask someone to do something that we ourselves were not willing to do! This is something that I have personally tried to do throughout my life. It’s advice that I feel was born from hard work probably in a tobacco field! Overall, I was impressed with the leadership that Southside Virginia has and how it has changed over time!