Cutting Through the Competition
From planting to the auction house, tobacco remains a labor intensive crop. The long leaves are chopped from the plant by hand, stacked on sticks and hung in barns to cure. So far, no machines have been made to replace the hands and backs of tobacco laborers.
Farmer Alvin Stamper, 26, is four-time defending tobacco cutting champ for the Garrard County Tobacco Cutting Competition. This video by freelancers David Stephenson and Amy Wilson follows Stamper during the 2009 competition.
The object is to cut the tobacco leaf stalks and jam them onto a stick, six stalks per stick. The competitors wade through the tall plants cutting nearly 1/4 of a mile of field by race’s end. Each man is paired with a “walker” who hands him the next stick for spearing the leaves as they are cut. Family ties are strong in Kentucky and Stamper’s walker is his grandfather.
Stamper finishes the race sweating and panting after spearing nearly 1,500 tobacco stalks in just over one hour. And once again, he walks away with the prize money and the knowledge that he is still the fastest cutter around.
This video won first place in the News Story Multimedia category of the 67th Pictures of the Year International competition.
By David Stephenson and Amy Wilson