For the past three years, a new tradition has been taking root at the State Fair. It’s called Tobacco Heritage Day, and it’s on the first Friday of the Fair. On this day, the public is invited to help fill the old log barn in Heritage Circle with tobacco grown at the Oxford Tobacco Research Station. Tobacco is tied to tobacco sticks, then hung in the barn. Depending on where you’re from in North Carolina, the process of tying the tobacco is called looping or stringing. Once the barn is loaded, a wood fire cures it for about a week. This is the way farmers did it until the mid-2oth century, when hand stringing gave way to mechanized tying.
The Fair also partners with the Duke Homestead Historic Site for a tobacco stringing contest. Three-person teams compete to see who can string a tobacco stick the fastest and the best. If leaves drop off the stick, the team’s score suffers. Prize money and ribbons are at stake. (Our thanks to the John Deere Ice Cream Guys for sponsoring the prizes.) Cotton Candy caught up with some loopers at this year’s event. In the video above, Sandy Jones of Maple Hill, whose Looping Fools team won the contest in 2006 and ’07 and finished third this year, shows a fairgoer how to string. And her husband, Ken, gives a little history lesson. Another stringer, named Artis, shows how quickly an accomplished looper can work.
Ag Commissioner Steve Troxler started Tobacco Heritage Day to help call attention to an important part of North Carolina’s history and show younger folks “how it used to be done.” One of the really neat sights today (which we unfortunately didn’t get on tape) was of an 11-year-old girl who entered the contest with her dad. She had never looped tobacco before, but she’s apparently a fast learner. Although her team didn’t place, they had a good stick. And not one leaf dropped off.