More and more volunteers continue to visit the field. Bolls are opening by the day. In addition to weeding, we’ve begun harvesting the cotton. In the studio, we are preparing for the quickly approaching Picking Party (and field work day). Look for details soon.
I took a trip out last weekend with my daughter Maggie, my friends the Champagnes and their four kids. In just a couple of hours of laughing, talking, and picking we had a pile that amounted to almost 70 pounds and the funny thing was… it was FUN. As I wrote in an earlier post, it is fun for those of us who know we can leave in a few hours, sit down for breaks as we feel like it, and laugh with our kids while working. There have been times in this county when “cotton work” was very different and we wanted our children to know and understand that. So, the few hours were filled with looking for bugs, talk of seeds and pods, and the life of farming. The kids were amazed to see how much cotton comes from each little boll. Our eight year old friend Joe kept saying, “Look how much was on this one!” and holding up his harvest proudly.
When you are raised in a community with a large farming population, the seasons take on a deeper meaning than a simple change in temperature. It is true that for agriculture, to everything there is a season –every vegetable has a growing season, every time of the year has beautiful moments and challenges to overcome. For most families tied to the land – much like the earliest humans – the sky is a clock and a calendar; the sun’s path across the sky, the length of each day, the location of sunrise and sunset – these things are actual signs of things to come and preparations that must be made. So, the upcoming Autumn Equinox will be a time of reflection upon the year’s successes and failures and a moment of celebration of the harvest cycle.
There are two equinoxes each year – one in March and the second in September. Technically, these are the days when the sun shines directly upon the Earth’s equator and the length of the day and the night is roughly equal. The Autumn equinox symbolically marks the beginning of autumn and the end of summer. From this moment, temperatures typically drop and the days begin to get shorter than the evenings. The sun begins its shift toward the south and the birds and butterflies follow it in their migrations. For us, September and October mean that it’s time for broccoli, greens, root vegetables, and apples. It also means that summer crops should have been stored and put up for the coming winter.
Sent: Friday, August 31, 2012 8:58 AM
Subject: Re: cotton field photos
I was thinking of you this morning and took a few pictures at the cotton field so you can feel like you are here this morning. My photos are nothing to these that you have sent, but perhaps you will like to see your cotton babies. I am so happy you found Kacie. She gave Jimmy a business card before he left the field yesterday and gave him the most beautiful garden stakes that she had made!
I had already left the field because I was exhausted. She was a dynamo and pulled weeds on her knees in that hot humid sticky field. She didn’t seem to want any credit for what she was doing. She farms herself in Tennessee.
I just had to take her photo with my phone because I can’t believe she was there and working so hard. I really think she is an angel. I will make a point to go to Huntsville and see her business someday. She will always be a very important part of this little cotton field. She left her mark on the field and in my heart.
Sent: Sunday, September 02, 2012 3:43 PM
Subject: Organic cotton
I am the cotton scout assigned to north Alabama and middle Tennessee for the Boll Weevil Eradication Program (SEBWEF). I noticed the article in Saturdays edition of Times Daily. My interest in your cotton field is to simply place a boll weevil trap nearby, and monitor it until mid-November.
Cotton growers in the state of Alabama and the Southeast have spent millions of dollars over the past 20 years to eradicate the boll weevil from our fields. The eradication has also reduced pesticide use dramatically, and actually saved several million in costs and increased yield.
The only way to guarantee that we do not get a re-infestation is to monitor ALL cotton that is in the eradicated zones. We receive information from USDA each season to locate each cotton field so that we can accomplish a successful monitoring program. I do imagine that your cotton was not reported to the local USDA Service center because of its nature, but there is a state (AL) and federal law that the cotton must be monitored. I can take care of this easily, but there will likely be a small fee assessed by SEBWEF.
Thank you. Continue reading
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.
Sent: Thursday, August 30, 2012 11:04 AM
Subject: Our first cotton angel
I was at the cotton field this morning when a car pulled up and a tiny young lady got out and put on her work gloves and went to work!! She is still there working!!! I sent a photo from my phone to your phone with her name. Can you believe she drove from Giles County Tennessee to Lawrence County Alabama to work in the hot steamy cotton field!
She is a wonderful person. I hope she will be in touch with you so that you can know her. Jimmy and I were so touched that she came such a long way and is such a hard worker. She is devoted and she is one in a million.
Love you guys,
P.S. when I left the cotton field this morning with my pillowcase pick sack, I drove straight to the Trinity Post Office to get them to weigh my pick sack! I walked in covered with sweat from head to toe and carrying a pillow sack with a lump of cotton in it. I’m sure they thought I was on Meth or Crack or something. I picked 2 pounds and 9 ounces of cotton this morning.
Don’t laugh. Imagine bending and stooping and sweating and gnats up your nose and ants biting your legs and stinging weeds with thorns.. It ain’t pretty work, that is for sure. Jimmy informs me that he was paid $3.00 for picking 100 pounds of cotton. Oh my god it makes my back hurt to think about it…..
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.
Sustainable. Natural. Organic. These are all words that are integral to the Alabama Chanin identity. Our core values compel us to take a holistic approach to our design methods, looking at every aspect, quality, material or person that may play a part in our production process. This way of thinking led us toward using natural dyes on our fabrics. One of the companies that carefully colors our fabrics is Artisan Natural Dyeworks based in Nashville, Tennessee.
Alabama Chanin was originally introduced to the women behind the company by a mutual acquaintance. At the time, the dye company was being run by sisters Alesandra and Sarah. The sisters, both transplants to Nashville, decided to start a business together, but wanted to make sure that it reflected their values, drew from their strengths and interests, and celebrated their deep love for the earth. Though neither sister had any experience with natural dyes (or apparel, or production), they ambitiously decided that establishing a natural dye house would perfectly integrate all of their requirements.
If you’ve called or stopped by the studio lately, perhaps you’ve met one of our newest team members, Erin Stephenson. Erin has her hand in many pots here these days, doing everything from writing, to graphic design, to closely monitoring our organic cotton crops. Her ability to seamlessly handle multiple projects makes her an excellent fit here at Alabama Chanin – since all of us have to pitch in to keep the place running, frocks sewn, and fabrics shipped.
I met Erin at a lecture at nearby Athens State University. She’d recently returned to Athens, Alabama, from New York, where she was working after studying Architecture at Cooper Union. Erin says that, while she was living in New York, a friend attending school at the Fashion Institute of Technology showed her one of our books – and she was shocked and proud to find that the author was from her own community.
The lecture in Athens was on a rainy day, and while I believe many people stayed home because of the rain, at the last minute Erin decided to attend. Something about her story and personality urged me to invite her to an upcoming Weekend Workshop at The Factory. She took the workshop, was very quiet, watched, listened, learned, and we went our separate ways.
About the same time, without my knowing, Erin started a blog, just to keep a journal of things that she was interested in, things that she made and cooked, and general “life in the south.” She wanted to find a way to explore, rediscover, and document this place where she grew up. She took up sewing as a hobby, making many of our projects. She says it was very therapeutic and calming to stitch and make.
I was driving through the desert of New Mexico en route to Taos talking about our cotton. I can’t remember a summer as scorchingly hot as this one–and there were some hot ones in the late 60s and early 70s. In the last weeks, temperatures have consistently been over 100. If we have a few more summers like this one, our landscape might morph into something more like the desert. While a desert can be a beautiful landscape, it is much different from our home here in Alabama.
Once home to Tee Jays Manufacturing Co., the industrial park where our studio – which we call ‘The Factory’- is located, is also home to many other manufacturers and distributors. Often it has been written that our community collapsed under the weight of NAFTA and the departing textile industry; however, that simply isn’t true. There are many strong companies that still find their homes here in this park on the edge of Florence and one, especially relevant to the upcoming 4th of July celebrations, is TNT Fireworks.
As Independence Day approaches, TNT’s Tommy Glasco took time from his busy schedule to talk about the company and their work. Founded in the late 1950s by Charles Anderson, TNT evolved from a former company called Alabama Sparkler. Anderson, founder of a successful book and magazine business, was seeking to sell seasonal products as a way of expanding his business. Fireworks were a successful fit. Over the years, TNT has become the largest distributor of consumer fireworks in the nation, possibly the world; however, they continue to maintain strong local roots.