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In this interview, Sullivan Fisher (born 1927, one of five children) describes his early boyhood on his father’s sharecropping farm. They raised tobacco, cotton, and a variety of vegetables and had livestock, but they were poor, sometimes clearing only $100 a year (though he says that much of their and their neighbors’ needs were met through bartering and trading labor). Fisher recalls life on the farm during the Depression – both boys and girls had their chores to attend to, after which they could go play. They all worked with tobacco, and he hauled tobacco and plowed with a mule. He believes that experiencing dirty, hard farm work as a child gives a person good incentive to study. Fisher attended NC State University in their two-year Special Agricultural Course. He went into the Navy for two years, then came back to farming. In 1959 he was named local Young Farmer of the Year in a competition sponsored by the Jaycees, then went on to win at the state and regional levels and finish as one of the national winners. Some of the topics Fisher discusses include: mules, their virtues, ailments, and proper handling; the cultivation and curing of tobacco, including the pros and cons of different curing techniques, which seed is best, and the differences between North Carolina and Virginia tobacco; how to get water running in your house using a “ram” (a type of pump); barn heating leading to barn burnings; the value of agriculture teachers and county agents; the hard work involved in maintaining a tobacco warehouse (his family established the Farmers’ Warehouse in Rocky Mount in 1946) ; floods and droughts; the heavy use of hand-scattered toxic pesticides (including arsenic) they used for many years as a matter of course, without caring about protection beyond washing their hands before they had supper; and good relations among farmers of different races, both owners and tenants. Though he is not a smoker himself, Fisher is skeptical about the harm tobacco really does to a person’s health, and doesn’t think a diet based on fat meat is unhealthy. Fisher and his wife Dorothy, a retired Home Economics teacher from South Hill, had three daughters, all of whom grew up working on the farm (“My boys just happened to be girls,” he says, “But they were still farmers.”) One daughter is still in farming, specializing in animal husbandry.

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