Kentucky’s agricultural history is rich, and tobacco was the state’s leading cash crop in the 19th century. But as times have changed, so have the crops Kentucky farmers grow.
Tobacco acres have been steadily declining since its peak in the 1980s, but today, tobacco barns still stand with many still in use.
Perched on the ground southeast of Hopkinsville, Ky., Steve Bolinger is preserving a piece of his family’s history.
“[The barn] is an old, dark-fired barn that was probably built in the 50s and 60s,” said Bolinger. “It was used for dark fire production, but now we use it for burley.”
Built by Bolinger’s grandfather, the barn’s roots are in dark firing tobacco, a process with specific needs.
“For dark fire production, you have to have a tighter barn,” he said. “For burley, you want air ventilation. You want ventilation on the top, diamond cuts on the side—it’s made to let air in and cure.”
Today, 70 percent of the nation’s burley tobacco is grown in Kentucky. Bolinger keeps this piece of American history alive each year.
“Burley, most times, we’ll cut in August,” he said. “It’ll dry out probably by October, November, and you can start taking it down and strip it.”
Raising burley and dark fired tobacco take time. It’s the dark fire cured tobacco that’s more of an art, giving the tobacco a desired, smoky flavor. No matter what type of curing process Bolinger is using, he says each of his old barns require care.
He says he hopes the aging barn timbers will continue to play a role in his farm’s story for generations to come.
Watch Bolinger explain the different processes of curing tobacco on AgDay above.