Perspectives Online

Hoke students in high cotton

Hoke County third graders learn about "white gold" during Cotton Field Day.
Courtesy Keith Walters

If you want to learn the basics of the crop called "white gold" found in just about everything from shirts to sheets, then the Cotton Field Day is for you. For the past four years, North Carolina Cooperative Extension staff and volunteers have sponsored the Cotton Field Day for all third graders in Hoke County as part of the Farm-City Week celebration.   

Cathy Brown, 4-H agent in Hoke County, who helps coordinate the program every year, wanted to construct a program where the kids learned the opportunities that lie within the agriculture industry. The program focuses on cotton because so much of the county's income comes from cotton.

At the field day, there was an array of activities to show visitors, from start to finish, where cotton comes from and what it becomes after it is harvested. Keith Walters, field crop Extension agent, explained how cotton starts out with a little seed that is delinted and treated with fungicide to prevent seed rot. 

After the cotton seed is planted in the spring, the group learned, producers care for the growing cotton plants by spraying for insects that could devalue the cotton and controlling the weeds that can create stress for the plants by taking away nutrients. As the late spring-early summer approaches, little white and pink flowers appear and later turn into cotton bolls that contain the cotton fibers. When fall comes around, the bolls open, revealing the fluffy, white fiber that is woven into fabric.

Students then heard about what cotton is turned into after it is harvested, as Joan Balfour, a member of the National Cotton Women's Committee, and Charity Haskins, a Hoke County 4-H'er, discussed the many uses for cotton.

Haskins' presentation on cotton production has won twice at the state 4-H presentations contest. She shared with the kids the many everyday uses for cotton and described how one cotton bale can produce 215 pairs of jeans, 249 single bed sheets, 1,217 T-shirts, 4,321 pairs of socks or 681,000 cosmetic  cotton balls. She also explained what cotton does for the economy on all levels.

To end the field day, the kids watched a working cotton gin, where cotton is sent after it is harvested. There they learned how seeds are removed and the cotton is cleaned, dried and made into 500-pound bales that are sent to buyers to make cotton-based products.

Edgar Edens, owner of the cotton gin and the farm where the field day was held, sees the field day as beneficial to the kids. "I think teaching about cotton and agriculture is more important than teaching the ABC's," he said. "It's important for them to learn where clothes come from, so they can respect agriculture. Agriculture is the foundation that we use to eat and sleep."

- Antoine Moore