Monday, October 16, 2017

Where in the World Do You Find Colored Cotton? Firebaugh of Course



Leisure time during harvest time is a rare commodity for farmers.

This time of year, they’re often out of the house before sunrise and backin the house after sundown. Needless to say playing golf, knitting, wood working or traveling takes a hiatus during the harvest season.

But a pair of Firebaugh growers has found time over the years to mix a little business and pleasure by growing a mini-field of colored cotton. Meet Frank Williams and Mark Fickett, owners of Windfall Farms in Firebaugh.


Windfall Farms brown colored cotton.
For years, they have tried innovative and environmentally friendly farm practices, including planting perennial hedgerows and inter-planting cotton and alfalfa for pest management.

It’s a labor of love for the two growers. This hobby requires a commitment to have the fiber picked by hand and ginned separately from conventional white cotton. Gins and harvesters can’t have a trace of colored fiber left on their equipment which could mix with conventional white cotton – whether it’s a John Deere harvester or a heating unit at the gin.

In past years, the colored cotton was sold to a small Biddeford, Mainespecialty yarn company called Quince &Co, which produces cotton, wool and other natural yarns.The Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP) helped Frank and Mark make the connection the company,

Frank and Mark are long-time participating SCP growers and supporters of the organization’s efforts to reduce the use of the most toxic chemicals used in cotton production. Quince &Co. has developed a blend of SCP’s Cleaner Cotton™ and brown and green colored cotton available on their website at https://quinceandco.com.

Colored cotton not quite as rare as Hope Diamond.
On its blog, Quince & Co has been writing about the various hurdles it has faced to develop a responsible, U.S.-sourced cotton yarn. “Today, the solution: Cleaner Cotton™, and the amazing people who bent over backwards to work our small order into their processes and help make our new yarn, Willet, a reality. We couldn't be more excited!”

Naturally colored cotton is bred to yield fiber colors other than white commercial cotton. The natural color precludes the need for dyes and the fiber can feel softer than the usual white cotton. Colored cotton, which traces its origin in the Americas to the South American Andes some 5,000 years ago, is still rare because of the special processing requirements (colored cotton is shorter and weaker fiber, which makes it difficult to be spun in heavy machinery). 

To help people learn about colored cotton, Frank and Mark welcome a group of visitors, including those from major fashion brands, to visit their small plot of colored cotton. It’s a rare treat – almost like checking out the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. But in this case, you can feel, touch and pick some of the fiber and bring it home.

Interested in seeing this rare fiber up close?
Cotton Tour participant picks colored cotton.

Just sign up for SCP’s annual Cotton Tour, which is scheduled for Tuesday, October 24. The event provides a unique opportunity to get an inside look at cotton production – from the field to the gin. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and costs $40 per person (the fee covers bus transportation and lunch at the Cardella Winery in Mendota). For more information or to register go to the following link:  https://scpcottontour2017.eventbrite.com

Be sure to say hey if you join the tour.




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