September 5, 2007

Chiles and His Florida: Havana

Havana, as you'd expect, was named after the original in Cuba. From the 19th century up until the right around the time Lawton Chiles breezed through town in summer of 1970, the farms surrounded Havana thrived growing "shade tobacco," which is used to make cigar wrappers. By the time Chiles got there, the industry was falling on hard times and Havana hadn't yet discovered its next calling--antiques. The Walkin' Notes tell the story:

I talked with some farmers last night and learned something about shade tobacco. There are no quotas or allotments as there are on regular tobacco. The only allotment is that the tobacco company tells you how much of your tobacco they will buy. They make a contract with you and then from this contract they finance anywhere from 2/3 to 3/4 of the cost of planting shade tobacco. Now, shade tobacco costs more to make a crop than about anything you can raise — around $3,000 an acre. So of course it's every risky business, but the returns can be high. One of their fears is too much water, and they're very concerned this year with all of the water that they have. Also, they're concerned because there was generally a cut by the tobacco companies, about 40% across the board, on their contracts. This has kind of depressed the area. I asked them if the new requirements in regard to television advertising of cigarettes and the warnings that have to be applied on the package have affected them, and they told me that it wouldn't affect them at all. Actually, there may be more shade tobacco needed because this is the outside leaf used in rolling the cigar. So they won't be affected by any cutback in cigarettes.

Word came that a lot of people were looking for me to come to Havana, so even though it wasn't on my schedule, I made a side trip over there. It's just outside Quincy. One fellow invited me to his house for catfish stew for lunch — it sounded good — but the day was slipping away and I had to get back over to U.S. 90.

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