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.
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.
I’ve always been a little obsessed with parades. I scoured the internet trying to find out where parades originated, or why. What I’ve found is this: nobody knows. There are cave drawings from over ten thousand years ago that depict prehistoric men marching wild game home to cook in a wild and celebratory manner. Perhaps it is human nature – a group of people with a common cause just tend to rally around one another and rejoice.
When you think about the concept of people, musicians, floats, horses, waving pageant queens – it seems as though one would be overwhelmed at having every sense stimulated all at once. But, I’m not.
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.
Thanks to Ari Weinzweig at Zingerman’s, I have been working on a “Vision of Greatness” for Alabama Chanin over the last few months (well, closer to a year to be more exact). However, over the last few weeks, I feel that I made real progress and worked out a growth chart and mission statement that is a good fit for both me and for our staff (more on that soon). Part of our Alabama Chanin growth mission includes committing ourselves to education on all levels and to finding even more ways to give back to our community.
Last month, we found a company – just around the corner from our own factory – who is doing just that.
As Alabama Chanin has grown and evolved, we have built a business model that I strongly believe in. Many of you have been with us from the beginning, and many of you have found us along the way. On a daily basis, we receive a bounty of emails, phone calls, and letters. Here we have compiled a list of our most frequently asked questions. Included are the mission and some history of Alabama Chanin. We invite you to explore, share, and of course let us know if there is something that we missed.
We sincerely appreciate every email, query, and compliment that comes our way; we look forward to continuing the conversation. While our FAQs is not meant to replace old-fashioned interaction we hope it gives anyone interested the opportunity to learn more about our company, just as we hope for opportunities to learn more about all of you.