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Tobacco grows in Helper

Charles Colacito (left) and Bill Callor congratulate each other in the garden.
Colacito has already harvested 650 leaves to be slowly dried and cured.

Sun Advocate associate editor

Neither William Callor nor his garden collaborator Charles Colacito could be sure in the spring that their experimental crop would grow, but by midsummer it was clear they had made a lucky strike in their choice.

One corner of Callor's big vegetable patch in Helper is now covered with big, broad-leafed plants not seen before in this part of the state: tobacco.

"It's not supposed to grow above 6,000 feet," Colacito explained. But Helper, right at that borderline elevation, apparently has no problem with it.

Early settlers in Washington County - Utah's Dixie - had given tobacco and cotton a try, but those plants haven't been considered further north and higher up.

Alfalfa is the crop of choice up here, cut two or three times a year and sold either as hay or as beef on the hoof. Callor, however, prefers to raise fruits and vegetables.

Tobacco is just a sideline compared to the rows and rows of veggies and the orchard of different fruit trees. Besides, the growers aren't allowed to do anything with the new crop other than dry and cure it. You can't sell anything but plain leaves unless you want to go through the labyrinth of regulations and taxes for products.

Getting the leaves ready for sale is a slow and painstaking process. Colacito provided the details. You have to hang the leaves for three weeks in an environment where the temperature in degrees equals the relative humidity. Eighty degrees means 80 percent humidity. The 650 leaves he has already plucked hang in the greenhouse. The stone floor is wet, releasing water vapor gradually to keep the humidity up.

After drying comes three weeks of curing. The leaves are stacked and shuffled every now and then.

The growers have planted a crop that is 75 percent Virginia tobacco and 25 percent Havana.

While there are no tobacco product operations in the region, Callor and Colacito think they can find a buyer somewhere out of state.

"It's an export item," Colacito said.

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