For those of you who have read about (or visited) our cotton field, we’d like to share with you its beginnings and its progress over the last months. These small bolls are more than just crops in a field; rather, they hold a fiber that has shaped the history of our community and, as we have seen in our growing process, binds our community together.
We began our search for organic (non-GMO, non-treated) cottonseed back in March. We worked with Lynda Grose and the Textile Exchange to educate ourselves about the growing process and the many details surrounding the growing of organic cotton. As we pushed forward, we were told by some farmers that March was too late into the growing season to prepare and plant crops. These “magic beans.” as we like to call the cottonseed, were proving very difficult to find. Numerous internet searches and phone calls left us wondering if this endeavor would be possible. But with the help of Kelly from the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, we successfully found a supplier in Texas.
While we were searching for a seed supplier, we also began a partnership with Billy Reid, another fashion company based in Florence, Alabama. K.P. and Katy McNeill of Billy Reid provided the initial excitement which has carried through the project. K.P. knew the perfect tract of land – untouched and unfarmed – about an hour’s drive from our office in Florence. He also knew the perfect person for the job: Jimmy, who was recently retired, raised in “cotton country,” and interested in farming and organics.
Once the seed arrived, we met early one morning in late April in a field full of cattle. Shortly thereafter, the cows were relocated, and the land was slowly plowed using an old Massey Ferguson tractor. A rich, beautiful soil was revealed, soil that we hoped would contain the right amount of nutrients to grow our cotton.
After a few tries at plowing, the soil was finally broken into a fine enough consistency. By mid-May the special seeds were planted in the ground with a two-row planter we found locally.
Eight days from planting, the cotton began to break through the ground. K.P. sent the good news to us while we were in New York.
And we returned to Alabama to see tiny butterfly-shaped seedlings, lined up in rows like soldiers.
We intended this plot of land to act as a test field, an experiment of sorts. We wanted to know if it would even be possible to grow the two varieties of cotton that we selected. We planted the 6 ½ acres with care and thought. But often times it felt (and still feels) like we’ve closed our eyes and stepped off a cliff, not knowing what to expect next.
This summer, the Alabama climate gave us a drought. We chose not to irrigate our field in order to conserve water.
From mid-June to mid-July we struggled with the real possibility that our cotton might not survive these harsh conditions. The resiliency of our cotton felt like a miracle – something was on our side.
And with a little rainfall, and then a lot of rain fall, the cotton plants grew and grew. The Alabama Chanin office visited the field to help Jimmy and Lisa with weeding. Some plants had pink blooms, some white, and some had many bolls.
And within the last week, those bolls have opened, revealing the white fibers. So our “cotton story” brings us to today.
Lisa has shared with us an image of Delia, our largest known cotton plant. She has 62 bolls. Lisa counted each and every one.
Please check back as we continue our story. We hope that you will be a part of it.
And a date for the Picking Party is coming soon!