(CNN) - Jessica Rodriguez was 11 years old when she first stepped onto a tobacco field in Snow Hill, North Carolina. She spent the next five summers working on a neighbor's tobacco farm, usually six days a week.


I was probably 10 or 11 when I first started working on my grandfather's tobacco farm.

We didn't just harvest. We planted in the spring, riding on a setter behind a tractor. In the summer, we harvested. Adults cut and staked, and everyone came later and hauled the stakes onto wagons. We children weren't allowed to stake, or touch the machetes or razor-sharp spikes. Many of us cut firewood at home; the machetes weren't nearly so dangerous as the spikes, which would go through your palm like butter. Yeah, kids couldn't touch those.

    hand-pulling tobacco and panning it with a harvester

I have no idea what that is. Must be a different method.

We then hung it in barn rafters 4-5 stories high, handing it up from the wagons. I loved that part; I've always loved heights. No more dangerous than climbing trees at home.

Finally, in the winter, we pulled it down and stripped the dried leaves, and put them in a baling compactor.

Was it dangerous? No more than playing in our backyard at home.

    Nearly 75% reported a range of devastating symptoms

Never happened to me, nor anyone, adult or child, I knew. I suspect this is grossly exaggerated. If you're working in the sun for days at a time, at some point you're going to get a headache or feel nauseous.

    eating lunch with tobacco gum all over your hands

Only if you're a nitwit and don't wash your hands first. Water is always available, you can't work in the heat without it. Tobacco gum is sticky, but it comes right off with a modest amount of scrubbing. We usually wore gloves anyway.

    the money was given directly to her parents.

What I earned, and every kid I knew, got to keep. We earned $100-300 a week back when the minimum wage was $5.15. As a kid, it seemed perfectly reasonable to me, and in retrospect taught a valuable lesson of the correlation of hard work and money.

I don't know any kids who worked in tobacco who didn't do it for a relative, and as far as I know kept the pay.

    no place to go to the bathroom

Yeah, in the trees behind the field. That was neither unusual nor unhealthy. Anyone who grew up with land probably did that on a weekly basis voluntarily anyway.

Are there kids forced to work for no pay, 12 hours a day, and made or allowed to use dangerous implements like spikes? I'm sure there are. And I wholeheartedly agree their parents should be investigated for abuse. On an individual basis. But I never met one.

As someone who grew up doing this, I think the article is way overblown, and the data overly anecdotal, cherry-picked, and manipulated to support preconceived notions.

posted by thenewgreen: 1841 days ago