If you’ve been following our blog, you’ve read about the rollercoaster that has been our first exposure to cotton farming. Having survived the terrible drought, the cotton has been carried through the summer by equal parts rainfall and sunshine. Right now, the bolls are looking healthy, but so are the weeds. Following the organic guidelines, we did not use any chemicals to eradicate the weeds. Lisa and “friend” Jimmy have done the leg, and arm, and back work.
Last Wednesday, the Alabama Chanin staff, along with Lisa and Jimmy, made a trip to weed the field. We arrived to a daunting 6 1/2 acres of beautifully forming cotton alongside big, ugly weeds. The next few weeks are crucial to a successful harvest of the first ever organic cotton crop in North Alabama (that is, since the invention of pesticides and genetically modified seeds). Our plants need ample light, air circulation, and nutrients from the soil to continue to develop and open. We were overjoyed when Lisa sent images on Saturday morning of the first bolls that have opened. But some of the weeds have still got to go. If this crop is to see a successful harvest, it’s going to need more help to survive and thrive.
Thanks to Amy DuFault and EcoSalon for sharing the story of our cotton on their blog today:
Last week, the Alabama Chanin team, along with friends Lisa and Jimmy, took to the organic cotton field we share with the team from Billy Reid. With rubber boots, loppers, and gloves in hand, we were there helping our organic cotton bolls survive after a long summer of drought and heat followed by excessive rain and weed growth.
We walked the rows, hoed, chopped, and pulled until the sun and heat forced us out of the field. Hard to imagine the days in Alabama heat where people were not allowed out of the field. Makes me think about how things were, how things are, and how things will be.
Nine of us barely made a dent in the work that needs to be done. As we documented the day with black and white images, it looked so romantic and felt like a moment from a Willa Cather novel. But the reality behind the black and white is a sordid, ugly history. I can’t pretend that I didn’t think about those that did this work because they had no choice. But I live TODAY and I WANT to grow organic cotton in the state of Alabama TODAY.
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.
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.
Last Friday, before we left for New York for an inspiring week of MAKESHIFT, we received wonderful news: the cotton seed had been planted. The week before, Jimmy, K.P., and I met early in the morning at the site of the cotton field, prepared to spend the day planting. However, the soil needed to be broken up more finely in order to allow the planter to properly cover the seed. This set us back a few days, but after another day of plowing to break the soil, Jimmy was finally ready to plant.
We left off two weeks ago in search of a two-row planter that will help get our cottonseed in the ground. Fortunately, we were able to find one locally. The planter’s shovels have been adjusted. The soil has been finely chopped. There have been conference calls between the field, the Factory office, and Kelly’s office in Texas. More thanks to Kelly Pepper.
Upon receiving our soil test results, we are determining the proper nutrients needed and the best organic fertilizers for the field. Staff at Auburn University has been helpful answering questions, and we’ve had the chance to learn more about the organic certification process through a local advisor.
Yesterday, a well awaited package was delivered to the Factory: organic, or “black” cottonseed, as I’ve learned it is called. In our effort to grow organic cotton, we’ve taken a step-by-step approach. We started with the seed, and now we move on to the land. We are learning as we go, and taking every experience to heart.
The search for seed began and taught us some of the important facts of organic cotton and cottonseed. Organizations like Textile Exchange and Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative lent their support and gave us direction in our search for non-GMO, non-treated cottonseed. In our conversation with Lynda Grose at Sustainable Cotton Project, Lynda shared her thoughts on organic, sustainable textiles, and the importance of knowing and working with your local farmers.
As our world continues to evolve and expand, sometimes the origins of things, the details and processes seem to get lost. I’m always curious about where things come from, the story, the people, and the hands that go into each thing that we consume. It seems that wherever you may be, there is someone that can provide you with what you need, locally.
In 2006 the owners of Higher Grounds Coffee Roasters, located in a small town called Leeds, Alabama, gave Natalie a bag of their freshly roasted, fair-trade, organic coffee beans. Since that day, Higher Grounds has been a staple here at Alabama Chanin, something that we look forward to enjoying each morning. When we received that first bag of coffee, it seemed that local coffee roasters in the South were few and far between. Fast forward six years and it seems that everywhere you look there are new and exciting things happening in the coffee world.
Last week, as we started to learn about organic cottonseed, we discovered that there are significant challenges associated with seed supply. Our conversation began with industry leaders, as we had our fair share of questions. This week we continue our discussion on the process of growing organic cotton in an interview with Lynda Grose.
Lynda has been involved with sustainable fashion and textiles since 1995 when she co-founded ESPRIT’s ecollection, which was the first ecologically responsible clothing line developed by a major corporation. Lynda currently serves as assistant professor in CCA’s Fashion Design Program and works with the Sustainable Cotton Project in California, and many more businesses and non-profits.
Lynda Grose, an inspired activist and friend for years – a part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin. Continue reading
After our fall visit to the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, we learned about the South’s Forgotten Locavores, market bulletins, and how these newsletters helped heirloom varieties of vegetables and plants survive generations.
We subscribed to Alabama’s Farmers and Consumers Bulletin shortly thereafter and are happy to report that we received our first issue just in time for spring cultivation. Old- timey Tennessee Red Cob Corn and Cow Horn Okra will be great additions to my garden. Continue reading