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Cotton | The Fabric of Our Lives
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Spotlighting Female Cotton Farmers This International Women's Day

Lisa Lo Paro

Lisa Lo Paro
March 8, 2022

Spotlighting Female Cotton Farmers This International Women's Day

In the United States, growing cotton, like many other industries, is still primarily male dominated. In fact, only about 5% of cotton farmers are women, and only about 36% of all U.S. farmers are women.

In 2019, we spoke to Alabama cotton farmer Wendy Yeager about juggling the hard physical labor of farming with the responsibilities of raising two daughters, and her story inspired us to speak to more women in the cotton farming industry and tell their stories, too.

Here, we’re spotlighting the daily lives of seven female cotton farmers, why they love to grow cotton, and why they find such satisfaction in an agricultural career. Farming any crop, including cotton, takes endless work—long hours outside for much of the growing season, a dependence on the weather, and a commitment to innovation and adaptability. For these seven women, cotton growing is by no means a men-only field—pun intended!

Alisa Ogden

For some, like Alisa Ogden from New Mexico, growing cotton is a family business. The farm has been in her family since 1916, so growing cotton is second nature. She learned how much cotton relies on weather and water, and how little things can be tweaked year and year to produce the best crop possible.

Like Alisa, many of the women we spoke to have been farming all their lives, and often took over the business from a father or grandfather and are now passing it down to their children. Julie Davis Holladay operates H2H Farms in West Texas and is now operating the farm with her daughter Katy. With family help and her daughter’s partnership, she’s been able to expand her operation and combine it with land from both their families.

Julie Katy Holladay

When you grow cotton, or even if you visit a cotton farm and speak to the people who work the land, you come to appreciate the effort involved. How dependent upon the weather it can be, how exciting it is to see the hard work grow higher every day. As Julie told us, “I enjoy a different experience as a consumer in acknowledging what it takes to produce that fiber” and has said that wearing cotton is that much more special to her.

But it’s not all about the farm. As cotton goes from “dirt to shirt,” it also goes through a ginning, or cleaning, process. That’s where people like Julie Hardy comes in. She has been the office manager of Doerun Gin Company for five years, but she also grew up on a cotton farm, and knows the challenges and the satisfaction of growing cotton.

Julie is also passionate about teaching others about what cotton farming and ginning is like. She runs a Facebook page called The Agucator, where she shares photos, stories, and behind the scenes footage from the farm.

Julie Hardy 2

“Cotton is beautiful. From the deep green of the plant itself, to the blooms, and the fields that look like snow in the fall. But my favorite thing about cotton is the people I’ve met along the way.” – Julie Hardy

Shelley barlow 1

For Julie, and for others like Shelley Butler Barrow from Suffolk, Virginia, education and passing on knowledge is part of why growing cotton is so rewarding. Shelley enjoys sharing with schoolkids and with people in her community why growing cotton means so much to her.

“I love that we’re growing a renewable, natural fiber for clothing and other uses,” she said, “as well as cottonseed for oil and feed…Also, JEANS! Love that denim starts here.”

This aspect of education and sharing knowledge among peers and family has paved the way for other women to break into the industry. Miranda Barrett of Texas began growing cotton in 2016. She didn’t grow up around agriculture and calls cotton farming “a new endeavor,” but the challenge and the opportunity to learn something new every season is especially meaningful to her.

Kristen Traugh of Georgia feels the same way, but it’s the technological innovations in U.S. cotton farming that speaks most to her. A cotton farmer for seven years, Kristen loves that she gets to meet people in the industry who are helping make cotton growing more advanced, more environmentally friendly, and more satisfying to grow.

Kristen Traugh 2

“Little changes can have a big impact, especially in cotton. It's a beautiful crop to grow and watch as it matures into production.” – Kristen Traugh

Miranda Tagging Cotton

For us, The Fabric of Our Lives may be a catchy jingle, a tagline, and even the name of a website. But for the farmers who grow, nurture, and love the plant, it’s truly the fabric of their lives.

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