Wednesday morning, Alabama Chanin closed its doors for half the day and made a trip out to the cotton field to visit (and weed with) Lisa and her husband, “friend” Jimmy (as he jokingly refers to himself). Jimmy and Lisa have been the determined and loving caretakers of our cotton these last months. Living near what we understand to be the FIRST privately owned organic cotton field in North Alabama (if not the entire state), they stop by each day to keep a watchful eye on our crop and monitor its progress.
Jimmy grew up less than a mile from the site of the field. His strong determination and easygoing personality, paired with a true farmer’s work ethic, have made him invaluable to the establishment of our field. Recently retired, and a friend of K.P. and Katy McNeill of Billy Reid, Jimmy was interested in finding a way to occupy his newly acquired free time. He offered to plow, plant, and cultivate the cotton field. He and K.P. have spent many weekends in Trinity this summer, discussing and working the land. Having chopped and picked cotton growing up, Jimmy expressed (with some disdain) he did not want a role in those later processes. He knew better.
Lisa moved to the Trinity, Alabama area about 21 years ago. A history buff, Lisa grew up knowing very little about cotton. She calls herself a self-taught farmer, learning all she knows on organics, cotton, and farming through the internet, experience, and talking with local farmers. As we admired the plants in the field, she pointed out different stages of the blooms and bolls. Lisa even gave us a short science lesson; she sliced open a boll and picked out inner seeds and fibers, explaining the anatomy of the plant.
Each morning and evening, Lisa walks the cotton rows with their dog, Eli, and pulls weeds as best she can. Lisa is a poet in her own right, and has passionately shared with us her strolls in the field via email. Here are some of the emails she has sent to us in the past weeks:
Today while the ground is wet, it is easiest to pull the weeds by hand. No matter what, I want to thank you for this experience. I never knew a person could love a cotton field so much. When I was a little girl there were moments when everything was right with the world and my Daddy would smile and say “we’re in high cotton now”. That saying brings to mind such sweet memories. Today is my birthday and I am starting this new year in “high cotton” thanks to you all.
The cotton has come back from that awful drought with AMAZING results. It is loaded with bolls, and as tall as my shoulder in some places. Now I am praying for the rain to stop so that the bolls won’t rot. We had an awful storm and rain here all through the night so I will be headed to the cotton field this morning to see how it fared. Jimmy’s cousins, the “Cotton Gods”, have decided once and for all that I am crazy for trying to work the field by hand. I don’t care. I have to try. The little field suffered so much in the six weeks of drought and has fought so hard to get to where it is today; there is no way I am going to leave it alone. I must say that I understand very well now all of the reasons people laugh out loud when you ask about hiring someone to weed a cotton field by hand… You cannot pay anyone enough money to get them to do this kind of work anymore. I will never look at a cotton field again without a deep compassion for the people who worked those fields every day every year with their own two hands. It makes me so sad to think of how people struggled to survive all based upon Mother Nature, their own physical strength, and prayers for miracles. In my case, it has been such a wonderful experience. That little cotton field is the one place where I can go and feel like I belong. It is a place where I can help, where I am needed, and in my life this past year has left me feeling like I have washed up on some strange shore and I have no way to get back home to everything I loved so dearly for the past 21 years. I like to feel like the little cotton field needs me, but in truth, I need the little cotton field. In the evenings the little barn swallows come and fly along with me as I weed the rows. They chatter and dart around me eating the insects that I disturb with my weeding. I love to hear them all around me, they are very social little birds and very friendly.
It is Monday Morning and Jimmy is bush hogging around the perimeter of the cotton field. I must warn you and Natalie that Jimmy and all of the local people here age 45 and up have found it quite funny and great entertainment to ride by and watch someone trying to chop weeds by hand….. They were all little children once and had to work in the cotton field from age five up, and they regard it as “hell torture” and they think we don’t know what we are trying to do. All of this makes me more determined to pick an entire cotton wagon full of cotton and drive over them as I head to the cotton gin!! Politely I will call them Hecklers. The little cotton field is LOADED with bolls and really something to be amazed at.
Once the cotton was planted, we left the rest of the work up to Mother Nature. This was a test that has far exceeded our wildest dreams. We simply wanted to see if these varieties would be able to survive the Alabama soil and climate. Jimmy cultivated the field a few times, but there was no irrigation system in place. To organic standards, we used no chemicals—no pesticides, insecticides, or fertilizers—nothing other than the untouched earth, rainwater, and sunshine. We aren’t home free yet, but we are very proud of the progress, and consider this endeavor a huge success.
We can’t thank Jimmy and Lisa enough for all of their hard work during these hot summer months. You won’t find a field in this nation that has been walked with more passion and love, not to mention the wit, laugher, and playful banter of this beautiful couple. (Our friend) Jimmy and Lisa Lentz, part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.