By Debra Davis
A group of teachers from across the state learned how cotton is transformed into thread and eventually clothing when they attended the Farm-To-Fabric Tour in Cherokee County Nov. 15.
The Alabama Cotton Producers, a division of the Alabama Farmers Federation, hosted the event, which was organized by the Alabama Department of Education as a professional development program for agriscience and family and consumer science (FCS) teachers. The tour included a visit to Cherokee Gin & Cotton Co. in Centre — the most modern cotton gin in America; a farmer panel; and a mill tour where the raw cotton was made into yarn at Parkdale Mill in Leesburg.
“I was surprised with the amount of engagement we had from the teachers,” said Nick McMichen, a partner in Cherokee Gin & Cotton Co. and farm panelist. “The teachers were really interested in how cotton is processed. Pairing the gin visit with the mill tour brought it all together for them. It allowed them to get a feel for how cotton is processed, becomes thread and eventually is clothing they wear.”
Teachers observed cotton as it was unloaded at the gin, followed by the stringent cleaning process, including how seeds are separated from the fiber before it’s pressed into 500-pound bales.
Farmer panel members were McMichen, Brent Tidwell, Richard Lindsey and Rich Lindsey. In addition to growing cotton, the Lindseys also are partners in Cherokee Gin & Cotton Co.
Federation Cotton Division Director Carla Hornady said the program fit perfectly with the education mission of Alabama cotton farmers.
“The teachers were familiar with cotton fields, and some had toured gin’s, but being able to tour a gin, then the mill really brought the process full circle,” she said.
The mill tour showed how the fiber is cleaned, combed and woven into thread. The mill’s parent company, Parkdale Inc., is the largest consumer of cotton in the U.S. and one of the largest providers of spun yarn in the world.
Brooks High School FCS teacher Katherine Graves of Killen described the mill tour as an eye-opening experience.
“I was pretty familiar with how cotton is grown and ginned; there are three gins in Lauderdale County where I live,” Graves said. “But all the things in the mill were new to me and very interesting. I believe the average person doesn’t think about what all goes into the clothes they wear.”
Graves said the Farm-To-Fabric Tour was the best professional development program she’s attended.
“This entire program helps connect us back to farmers and the important role they have in providing for us,” she said.