It’s no secret. I’m an organic cotton fan.
I am such a fan of organic cotton that I work with both the Organic Trade Association and Textile Exchange to promote its production and use. After researching and writing about the problems of conventional cotton production, including the extensive use of pesticides and genetically modified seeds, growing cotton organically just makes sense to me. After all, organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, as well as genetically engineered seed.
The good news? Organic cotton production around the world is on the rise, mostly due to brands increasingly incorporating it into their products as they address their sustainability goals and respond to consumer interest. Some use five percent in a product, others 100 percent. It all adds up to big change.
According to the recent Textile Exchange Organic Cotton Market Report, global production of organic cotton saw impressive growth between 2016/17 and 2017/18, increasing 56 percent to 831,193 bales (180,971 metric tonnes). Organic cotton was planted on 880,018 acres (356,131 hectares), with total volumes reaching the highest level since 2010/11 when the financial crisis led to a dramatic decline.
Nineteen countries produced organic cotton in 2017/18 with the top seven being (in order by rank): India, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Tajikistan, the United States, and Tanzania. In fact, those 7 countries grow 98 percent of the worlds’ organic cotton.
The US ranks in sixth place, with two entities in Texas being the driving force behind the expansion – the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative and the Procot Cooperative, managed by Allenberg Cotton Company. In addition, farmer Dosi Alvarez in New Mexico is one of the few farmers growing organic pima, treasured by the global fashion industry in particular, and in 2017 he even grew colored cotton for the first time since 2011.
Thanks to these farmers, we have apparel, mattresses, and even Tampax® tampons made of US organic cotton.
That’s the good news. The bad news? Organic cotton still only makes up 0.7 percent of global cotton production. Most of the leading brands have turned to the Better Cotton Initiative cotton to meet their “sustainable cotton” goals. However, this program permits genetically engineered seed and all the top ten pesticides used in conventional cotton, including Bayer’s controversial herbicide Roundup®.
To really be the change, brands should take the extra step and commit to purchasing organically grown cotton. Five percent. 100 percent. It all adds up to big change. Let’s get over that one percent mark in 2020.
This year, the farmers market I founded celebrated its 10th anniversary. The Forest Estates Community Association Farmers Market is really a small, independent farm stand in my Silver Spring, MD neighborhood, and is the only farmers market on Montgomery County park land.
The celebration was a big deal. Last year, we were poised to celebrate the 10th year with much hoopla, but the primary farmer that had supplied our market for the previous nine years was repeatedly rained out, her fields ruined from floods. This gave me a first-hand understanding of the risks farmers face every day, and increasingly with climate change. I also learned how carefully farmers plan what they plant, as when I went from farmer to farmer at different large farmers markets, asking if anyone could step in for the season, I was met with only no’s as they were already committed.
Then I learned of a new farmer who was just starting out and was farming organically. I got all the necessary permits and we launched in May this year. I was so determined to make the market work out for her that I initiated planned activities for each Saturday morning to increase attendance. Then she walked out on us mid-summer - when packing up after a hugely successful market, no less - saying she was overextended. That was another learning moment, with me having to accept that if she needed to focus on a more popular stand downtown vs. our small stand, it made economic sense for her. But I wished she could have given me a bit of notice.
I was, in a word, despondent. The market is such a big part of my life, and has become the cornerstone of many people’s Saturday mornings. It’s an important time to connect with fresh produce as well as new friends made while discussing recipes or politics and, of course, with the farmers when they were on-site.
I reached back to our former farmer who was now enjoying beautiful weather and had a bountiful crop. Miraculously, she was able to start again the very next Saturday.
The neighborhood went from incredulous to ecstatic. My inbox and mailbox were flooded with giddy messages of thanks from neighbors, many of whom also turned out for a real 10th year celebration a few weeks later when Councilmember Tom Hucker presented me with a formal recognition of thanks for coordinating the market on behalf of the County Council. I was in seventh heaven.
Over this past year, I’ve learned a lot – about farming risks and obstacles as well as how to host a variety of weekly events, ranging from bands playing to art shows. I’ve also learned how farmers markets are so much more than just a place to buy food; as with the roots of plants, they play many important roles.
Our neighbors could choose to go to Costco, Target or any other store nearby, but they come for the freshness, camaraderie and to support the farmer. Any effort to strengthen and expand farmers markets – including on other county park land – is a win-win situation for everyone.