As mentioned, I spent the end of last week in tobacco country. Thursday morning I met our organic tobacco broker at a little diner in Chapel Hill, NC. He asked me to meet him at 7AM, when the diner opened.
I’d been in touch with this man for years. We’d traded countless emails and hours of phone calls, not to mention at least a hundred pounds of tobacco over the years. Still, it’s a curious thing in this day: I’d never properly met him. He had been in the fields or out of town during other trips of mine to Durham over these years, or we just didn’t get around to it. And I knew it was he when he stepped out of his Prius because I recognized his grey braided pony tail from photos I’d seen online.
Well that, and he was carrying a ziplocked freezer bag stuffed with flue-cured tobacco.
It was just us and some police officers in there. I couldn’t tell if their shifts were beginning or ending. Either way, it was quiet. Like, you-can-hear-the-bacon-crack-on-the-griddle-quiet. And no one seemed to care that we were chatting about the tobacco business. I often hush my voice and lean in when discussing such things with officers-of-the-law within earshot, feeling like some brand of reprobate for my involvement in this industry. C’est la vie.
I filled him in on the details of the funds raised, and our plans moving forward: namely, what I had come to town to do. We couldn’t linger too long, for I was meeting one of his partners at 9AM for the drive up to Virginia.
Still, I was struck with the odd new-ness of the whole affair: I mean, I sat across the diner booth from this 8th generation tobacco farmer, whom I considered a friend and business associate, yet whom I had never met. I learned of his business through an internet search, and cold-called him one day. And here he was … A man very instrumental in spearheading Santa Fe Natural Tobacco’s early organic efforts.
And he remains tremendously helpful. The pancakes were forgettable.
This encounter is not.