I recently have had an enlightening experience and have put it into story form. I am considering submitting it to a publication but it definatly will go on my new revised web site. I am posting it here to get people thinking.
Bobby Weaver Story: A Different Side of Conservation
Since my fascination with Sarracenias began in 2002, it has never ceased to amaze me the interesting people I meet or the fascinating stories I hear. Last August, VERANDA magazine did a story on my obsession with Sarracenias and I how came to discover these alluring plants - along with my ensuing friendship with the Wilkerson family. This led to many wonderful phone calls, but one phone call stood out from the rest. A woman who claimed she had Sarracenias on her property and wanted me to come see them. I hate to sound like a doubting Thomas, but let's just say there have been a few instances where what were supposed to be Sarracenia turned out to be Jack-in-the-pulpits or a myriad of other plants. So, I called and I have to say Linda Stefan could not have been nicer or more enthusiastic. She insisted I come and see her plants. She certainly lived in the right area, Washington County, Alabama. Well, it took me a year to get around to a trip down. Although I never got to meet Linda I did get to meet her farm manager, Bobby Weaver.
Bobby Weaver is as nice of a man as you would ever want to meet. But what lies behind that soft Southern demeanor is only revealed when you see the sparkle in his eyes as he starts talking about Sarracenias. Born in Merdian, MS, Bobby moved to Washington County Alabama and married Carolyn Richardson. Bobby has done many things in his life to earn a living and one of those was picking Sarracenia pitchers. When he was younger he says, he worked for this man picking pitchers. Bobby saw how it was done and saw room for improvement and expansion so he went out on his own. His wife and two sons helped in the business - and a fine business it was. Quality was of utmost importance. His young sons, 10 and 13 were instructed to pick only one pitcher from each plant and ONLY if it was perfect, no blemishes or spots. Bobby and Carolyn graded the pitchers according to size. They were carefully packed and shipped to California and in fact all over the country. Bobby had gotten from the local library a listing of all the florists in the US and called them to see if they would be interested in receiving shipments of pitchers. The answer was a resounding 'YES!" Bobby's business thrived. At one point Bobby was shipping to Japan where the demand was high. He had the proper CITES paperwork and had even designed a special box in which to ship TWO pitchers at a time. Bobby's price, $3 a pitcher. Now, many of you are cringing at the thought of the wholesale rape of these endangered plants for profit. Remember, this was Bobby's livelihood. This was the goose that laid the golden egg. Bobby began to lease land from local timber companies for the right to harvest. But that was not all - Bobby learned that these plants thrived on fire, not a January or February burn as was typical in this part of the country, but an early August burn that preceded the fall pitcher crop which is more like what would occur naturally with summer thunderstorms. You see Bobby specialized in leucophyllas. At the height of Bobby's business he was cutting 500,000 pitchers a year and managing 5000 acres of pitcher plants. Bobby was in business for 16 years. He never saw a decrease in production. The plants never suffered because he knew just how many to cut so that the plants were never weakened by his harvest. Bobby Weaver and his family were true conservationists, just not in the way we often think.
Bobby will tell you the worst thing to ever happen to the plants is the timber business. The flat plows used to scrape the area for timber production, and in turn destroy the Sarracenia, sicken him. The wide use of herbicides and fire suppression also does it's share of damage. Bobby remembers when there were fields of white, just like snow in late August, where the leucophyllas stretched out to the horizon. Most all of that is gone now, just bits and bobs left here and there of a once magnificent sea of white. Now, there is a sea of pines. Bobby does not crop pitchers anymore and the most of the stands that were under his care are long gone. The last stands that Bobby had were on his own land but his wife, Caroline was diagnosed with cancer and fell ill. Like so many people today Bobby had no health insurance. He had to sell off his land with the Sarracenias on them to pay for Caroline’s treatment. Caroline passed away in march of 2006. The new owners turned to bog into pasture for cows. Standing next to Bobby, he motions to a field dotted with grazing cows. I try to imagine this flat pasture once again covered in Sarracenia. Sadly, nothing remains. He smiles wryly and says," I made more money selling pitchers than these folks are making raising registered Black Angus cattle. I hated to see the plants go. They were precious to me. They were beautiful and they were my living."