Tobacco-picking is is often done by migrant Latino workers, both H-2A and undocumented. They can face abuse and exploitation from when they are recruited in Mexico, before they even set foot on US soil. But they are essential to the economic stability of North Carolina, providing a steady supply of labour for agricultural jobs that can’t be filled by Americans.
Tobacco is a labor-intensive crop. It begins life in a greenhouse before being transplanted into the soil. It grows to a few feet tall and you often start by only picking the leaves at the base of the stem, which has to be done by hand. The early-morning dew makes it give off a greasy chemical smell and the tar slowly turns your gloves black. The nicotine in tobacco keeps smokers hooked, but for workers in the fields who are exposed to nicotine day in, day out, it can cause “green tobacco sickness”—a condition that leads to headaches, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. A day off is a welcome respite.