Monday, November 20, 2017

What I've learned about farming and ginning

Since moving to Missouri, I've been surrounded by birds, birds, and more birds.  The Cardinals aren't around too much yet (perhaps when it is colder?)  but robins and jays abound. Yesterday, geese were flying overhead, moving farther south.  I heard an owl last night and today a hawk soared across the front window of my car.

I've also noticed a discernible lack of cattle, something that was so common in my former world.  Not only were dairy farms in abundance, there were herds of beef cattle, sheep, and horses.  Farmers grew hay, corn, and alfalfa.  In the orchards, there were olives, peaches, and almonds.  On the edges of our town, there were large, open areas called Green Belts kept between small towns to inhibit housing and strip mall development. There was always something growing there or grazing there. 

But here, like there, farming doesn't bear much resemblance to my Charlotte's Web vision of farming.  You know Charlotte's Web, that lovely children's book of farm life and saving the life of one runty little pig.  This endearing story, like the song Old MacDonald Had a Farm, laid out the classic vision of farm life.  But is it like that here?  Mmmm, not so much.

One of the things I have learned is that a farmer doesn't necessarily live on his farm.  He has acreage. He might be growing all over the area cobbling together a farming life that might have once been counted in the 1000's of acres, now reduced by time, fewer children taking up the family business, and worse - taxes.  The family farm has or had a home and barn (or maybe a really big shed that shelters equipment) but chickens aren't running around, kitchen gardens, if there, aren't visible, and the closest farmers market is 40 minutes away and is a relatively small affair.

Replacing this time-honored vision are cotton pickers, harvesters, and combines. Trucks haul the harvest to granaries and gins, there to be processed and hauled by truck or barge to elsewhere.  I determined early in my life here that I would not only grow a cotton plant of my very own, BUT, when teased with the idea, I would ride in a cotton picker and visit a cotton gin.  Both of those things happened a few weeks ago.  

Visiting a gin was an experience unlike anything I've ever had.  There is a hum and whirl in the air that never quiets.  Cotton bricks are dropped and processed, fiber and seeds separating from the brick and sent off to pour into another machine where fiber and seed are separated, fiber going in one direction and seed in the other. 

The separated fiber eventually is reassembled into smaller bales, shipped to a storage area where brokers sell the bales that move out to parts unknown all over the world.  Here's a piece of trivia for you.

One bale of cotton can make:
215 Jeans
249 Bed Sheets
409 Men's Sport Shirts
690 Terry Bath Towels
765 Men's Dress Shirts
1,217 Men's T-Shirts
1,256 Pillowcases
2,104 Boxer Shorts
2,419 Men's Briefs
3,085 Diapers
4,321 Mid-Calf Socks
6,436 Women's Knit Briefs
21,960 Women's Handkerchiefs
313,600 $100 Bills

And what about the separated seed?  Cottonseed is used in the making of cooking oil or in salad dressings.  It is also used in the production of shortening and margarine. Cotton grown for the extraction of cottonseed oil is one of the major crops grown around the world for the production of oil, after soy, corn, and canola oil.  It is also useful as a cosmetic ingredient commonly found in lipstick, mascara, and lip balms.


By far the most exciting time of the day, though, was me climbing up into the cotton picker.  I thank God, every time I think of it, that no one had a camera (except me of course, and I was firmly in possession of it).  The vision of me climbing up that ladder to the platform that held the cab would not have been a pretty one.  But, once settled in next to Mr. Sides, I had the time of my life.  The YouTube video of my ride in the picker can be seen in the link below. Sadly, I ran out of battery and it cut off abruptly.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqkcSYLZm1A&t=16s

And while I'm at it, here's another link of the gin at work separating the fiber from the side.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pey1AFoHVXQ

The climb down from the picker was much more easily accomplished.  It's amazing how, when you work WITH gravity, things go much more smoothly.

So, another experience and new insight into the ways of farming, imagined and real, and cotton's end product after being picked.  Just another day in the Bootheel for me.  Now if I can just get a ride on a barge. Or is it actually the pusher tug I'd like to ride on? Are there any offers out there for me?  I have a post coming up that talks about my fascination with barges on the Mississippi.





8 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh, you were up so high!!! And your statistics are amazing!!! My mind is still whirling from them. Way to GO!!!!!!!!!

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    1. Google is a wonderful resource. Ask and you shall get. ❤

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  2. This is really interesting, Annie. I really know nothing about this. And bravo, on your climb. I would have given that one a pass, I think! Happy Thanksgiving!

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    1. Believe me, Jeanie, when I saw that ladder I almost gave it a pass, too. But after pining over cotton and wanting the full experience, well, full for me anyway, there was no way I could walk away from it.

      ğŸ’ž my 💪s

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  3. And guess who was below her, with both feet braced and arms at the ready to catch her.

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  4. Driving that cotton picker all day must be a little like ploughing through a calm sea! I can only imagine the hardship for the slaves who are what I always associate with cotton picking. Here in England farming has changed, although probably not quite as much as it has in Missouri. It's still possible to see really traditional barnyard type farms in parts of Europe.

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    1. What's interesting about the history of cotton, Jenny, is that it wasn't just the slaves who were out there bringing the cotton in. Bringing it in was so work intensive that everything able bodied person was out there. Here in the local history, several farmers still raising cotton have family photos of who the workers were. Some of the oldest members of the community here (black and white) remember picking cotton before it became mechanized. The life of the community depended on a successful picking season.

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