From the clothes we wear to our household goods, cotton is the world’s most widely used and versatile natural fiber. It’s also the fiber that makes many of our favorite fabrics — poplin, corduroy, chambray and flannel. A couple of weeks ago, we headed down to Farmer’s Cotton Gin, just south of the Virginia – North Carolina border to learn how cotton is produced.
Carter, a member of our Customer Experience team, has roots in Jackson, North Carolina. Jackson is a one-stop-light kind of town. Everyone knows everyone at least by their last name, and the only restaurant in town, The Embassy, closes at 2pm each afternoon. Carter’s mother grew up in Jackson where her family owned what is now called Farmer’s Gin for more than 80 years.
Seeing the vastness of the fields and acres upon acres of farmland is an extraordinary sight. We passed many unpicked cotton fields on the drive into Jackson, and there were very large tractors in some fields — a sign that this year’s picking season is well underway.
The employees of Farmer’s Gin were incredibly hospitable and gave us a full tour of the gin. The gin runs 12 hours a day, seven days a week, from September through December. They can produce 15 bales per hour or 180 bales per day. For the process, the cotton gin receives a cotton module – the large square or round bundles of cotton in the field – and begin separating seed and plant debris, cleaning the cotton, and pressing it into bales. It takes approximately an hour to completely bale a 1,800-pound module. After the cotton is baled, it is then sold to brokers who sell the cotton to textile mills and companies.
A single bale of cotton can make 765 men’s dress shirts, 215 pairs of jeans, or 313,600 $100 bills. Last year, North Carolina produced 1.2 million bales of cotton*, 7,3% of the U.S.’s total cotton production. The amount of cotton that is being produced in less than a couple hours drive away from Richmond in terms of scale and volume is truly impressive.
Spending the day in Jackson was a welcomed change of pace from the city. We felt a strong sense of Southern Hospitality in everyone that we met. Although we wear cotton nearly everyday and many of our shirts are constructed from it, seeing the fiber in its raw form led to a new perspective. We aren’t too sure when we’ll be able to make it back to Jackson, but we had a great time and wish everyone at the gin much success this cotton season.