What do your socks, my bowl of ice cream and the latest episode of “Good Roots” have in common? Cotton!
And before you adjust your glasses or send an email to us claiming there’s a typo, let me explain …
Actually, I’ll let Steve Stevens explain. After all, it was he who told me all about this while standing in the middle of his cotton fields on a cloudy September morning.
“…the lint. When the seed comes out of the gin, it goes to a processor where they get what they call linters. And it’s these litttttle bitty tiny, tiny fibers that are left on the seed from the cotton gin. And that’s used in ice cream as a filler to kinda give it some thickness. And it … you know … it’s one of those uses!”
Stevens and his son-in-law were two of the four gentlemen we visited with in Desha County on a lovely but warm autumn Tuesday as we learned a little bit about the cotton harvest and a lot about the Arkansas Discovery Farms Program.
Stevens Farms is one of 12 properties in the state selected to participate in the Arkansas Discovery Farms Program. This exclusive initiative takes a deeper, closer, more intimate look at what conservation practices are in place, how successful they are and, in many cases, what areas could be improved when it comes to water conservation and environmental preservation.
Each farm has its own unique features that set it apart from the others. One may have rice, corn and cotton, another is home to poultry or cattle. They are in the northern part of the state with hills; they are in the wet and flat part of the Delta. These sites are hand-selected and carefully chosen based on their locale, crop history, farming practices and unique challenges.
Stevens admitted it took him a while to say yes to joining the program but, now, he speaks fondly for the program and how he has benefited from being involved. This project is sponsored by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture with a mission to “conduct research and achieve scientific discoveries that benefit Arkansas citizens, expand agricultural sustainability and profitability, promote environmental stewardship, strengthen local and state economies and ensure safe and nutritious food supply.”
Steve’s son-in-law Wes is the farm manager. He was gracious enough to join us on our shoot. He walked me through the process of where the cotton goes from here … and how long it may take. He also enlightened me that, on the face, that a bale of cotton weighs from 480-520 pounds, so there be some new respect for the lyrics of the old song that claims “Jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton. Jump down, turn around pick a bale day.”
Mr. Stevens has a few years on the farm under his belt, so there’s no question he could teach a thing or two to others in the industry. While chatting off camera, he points across the field. “When I came home from the hospital, I was brought into what was the new house, which is what we’re looking right there on the farm. Mother and Daddy had just built it … In the fall, I was put on a cotton sack when they were picking cotton and I was drug around on a cotton sack. So, I literally grew up on the farm. I started driving tractors at 10. School was always first. But, if I wasn’t in school, I was on a tractor or working on the farm.”
For an experimental endeavor such as the Arkansas Discovery Farms Program, I can’t think of a more ideal scenario than a farmer who grew up on the same field he now harvests every season. Fortitude in their fields and daily devotion to what goes into and comes out of the soil is what will make or break the future of our farmlands.
I drove back home that day with a few cotton branches in my back seat and a new view on what goes into making any crop the best it can be. Even if that means making adjustments you didn’t know you needed.
And I scooped myself up a big bowl of ice cream when I got back home; it was tastier than any I’d ever had before.
Friday, Oct. 22, 2021
About the author: “Good Roots” segment host Lauren McCullough – who grew up on the family farm in Nashville, Arkansas, showing registered Brangus cattle and raising chickens – is a creative entrepreneur, dividing her time as a photographer, videographer and on-camera talent. Now a resident of The Natural State’s capital city, Lauren’s passion lies in capturing and sharing the special moments that make up the "everyday" as she meets fellow Arkansans and shares their unique stories with the world.