For many food crops, the field-to-fork process is relatively straightforward. For example, take an apple. Pick it up, clean it up, and evaluate where it ends up going. For supermarkets, tag and palletize with other apples before loading onto supply trucks. The process is a little more complicated for imported or exported food, but the steps are similar.
Put on your cotton dress now. It was grown in the fields before being hung on hangers in stores. But how did you get to the store? First, like apples, cotton was harvested and cleaned by farmers. It was also graded to determine if it could be woven into fibers. The cotton was bundled and shipped from the farms where it was grown to processors, probably in Vietnam or India. These fabricators weave cotton into threads or utility fibers and send it to garment factories to create the actual dress patterns.These factories may be located in Cambodia or China. If the dress has a lining, it is made separately.The dress may have embroidery. It’s another factory in another country. Maybe the dress has been bleached or dyed. Finally, all the pieces are ready to be patterned together, so it’s now shipped to a dressmaker in El Salvador where it’s all put together before it’s shipped to the United States. It will be returned and sold.
That’s a long way to go for a cotton dress.
Consumers are paying more attention to regenerative agriculture as it applies to our food supply, but less is being discussed about the fiber crops that make up the vast arable lands of the United States, especially cotton. It is the world’s largest cotton exporter. In 2019-2020, the United States produced approximately 20 million bales of cotton. This equates to approximately $7 billion.
There are approximately 18,600 cotton farms nationwide, mostly in southern states such as Texas, Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi. Cotton is the major fiber crop grown in the United States, but hemp and flax farms are also growing in number, generally throughout the Pacific Northwest and Midwest. And what can they do to offset mass production going to the manufacturing side of fashion?
For one cotton farmer in Texas, the answer may be downsizing. Jeremy Brown manages approximately 5,000 acres of primarily cotton growing farms outside of Lubbock, Texas. With his wife, Brown co-owns his Broadview Agriculture, an agricultural S corporation, and oversees his 12 farms in the area. For him, going further into regenerative therapy may require abandoning some of his land, but that’s enough.
“I want to make better use of the land that I have now, even if it gets smaller,” Brown says. I fell into the trap of thinking I had to farm acres, and now I want to farm the land I like, it fits my operation and the landowners are like-minded. Brown isn’t in the process of selling his land just yet, but he says he can stop farming about 1,000 acres for a start.
It’s an unusual message from a farmer, but one that Brown has thought through a lot. Around 2013, Brown decided to transfer a small amount of land to his organic cotton business. It took him three years to become a certified organic farm, and he wanted to experiment.At the time, he saw organic farming as a potential way to increase his income.
The results were astonishing. Brown wasn’t sprayed with chemicals like a traditional land patch, but he was getting great results: “I got to see things from a different perspective,” he says. says. It was also around this time that he discovered regenerative farming and began to think he was “thinking the wrong thing”. Like many farmers, he was preoccupied with yield, but what if he turned his attention to the soil?
“When you look at your income statement as a business owner, you see an organic [and regenerative] Cotton consistently made more money,” says Brown. “I may not be making as much, but in dollars per acre, I was definitely making more money.”
In response, Brown began transforming his land into increasingly organic and regenerative practices, and now nearly 3,500 of his 5,000 acres are certified organic. Still, he’s definitely in the minority. Even Mr. Brown’s neighbors are skeptical of the switch. “When I talk to my neighbors about regenerative agriculture, they immediately say, ‘It’s not going to work here.
And given that the majority of cotton growers avoid reclaiming the environment, that further increases the environmental footprint of our cotton dresses. Organic cotton makes up less than 1% of the cotton produced in the United States. but other authentication may be useful. The USDA certifies organic farms, but there is no larger governing body that looks specifically at fiber and textile farms. Perhaps that should change, says Tasha Lewis, associate professor of fashion and retail studies at Ohio State University.
“It’s good to have these certifications because people might understand what they mean,” Lewis explains. It may look like a government agency, similar to how the Consumer Product Safety Commission views textile safety. , could also be a larger industry group, Lewis says. “There is demand,” she says. But the industry is still pretty secretive.
“We really need transparency. Think about the farm-to-table movement,” Lewis says. Consumers are demanding more transparency, creating trends in local and regional cuisine. But “transparency in the apparel industry is a tough one,” she says.Some companies are actually looking to publish their factory listings [where they produce their garments]It also means that competitors know where to make really good stuff. “
Are there any fibers or textiles that are more sustainable and eco-friendly than others? Should we all opt for cotton wool or embrace athleisure lycra? , says consumers must choose their own poison. If eating organic is high on their priority list, they will buy organic above anything else. , to tailor your purchases to your priorities. It should be the same as the clothes.
“If you care more about the use of land water, you might want bamboo or flax. But cotton is a very thirsty crop and [conventionally grown cotton] We need a lot of pesticides. But if you care about chemicals released into the environment, bamboo may not be so great,” Lewis explains. “Polyester today is petroleum-based. , which significantly reduces the energy used during the consumer care stage.”
Basically, there is no perfect fiber to choose from, but Lewis is a huge proponent of buying and recycling used clothing. Almost 95% of textiles are recyclable, and polyester is no exception. There is also insulation made from old jeans.
So there are ways to get more life out of clothes and ways to change textile farms.
Part of that change comes down to consumer demand, but insiders are driving new developments. The more she researched clothing, the more Muse realized that much of the clothing supply chain was obscure and hidden. People don’t care where the clothes come from,” she says. “That’s what pushed me down the road of sustainability. [my clothes] It’s from who made it what kind of influence do they have? Muse founded Dirt, a charity that consults with fashion brands on sustainable farming practices.
After learning more about the treatments most garments go through, Muse advocates a more closed-loop system within the production cycle. “I personally believe that we should move to regeneratively grown natural fibers with dyes made from non-toxic chemicals. It is dripped and then filtered until all the water is returned to its natural fibres.The water cycle is not only shocked with chlorine, it is clean, pure and rejuvenated so it is clean and pure.”
Muse also advocates rethinking how much we are willing to pay for clothes. “We expect farmers to grow whatever we need, we expect them to grow whatever we need, and we expect them to pay an unjust price.” [to] farmer. We cannot produce these things in a climate-resilient way as long as the cost expectations remain very low,” says Muse. “I like to think that sustainably grown produce is actually a good price. It’s more expensive than conventional produce, but below the real food good cost and price.” .”
The debate about regenerative agriculture for food crops begins with farmers and spreads to the general public.Well it is possible and many argue should do it— occurs on a larger scale in our clothing debate. not. When it comes to clothing, these options may become more widely available, but transforming the industry will require a concerted effort by farmers, consumers, and brands. The cotton dress represented something far more complex than it appeared.
This article is from Modern Farmer, the authoritative resource for today’s cutting-edge food producers and consumers. To read more stories like this, visit modernfarmer.com.