When most Americans hear the phrase “Two Americas,” they think of the divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” – a major talking point in the 2004 presidential election. When I hear this phrase, I think of rural America versus urban America.
Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association is headquartered in downtown Austin, Texas. Our state has a population of about 26 million, of which about 23 million live in a metropolitan area. The metro areas of Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio alone are home to almost 20 million Texans. Unfortunately, the urban areas are growing at a much more rapid rate than the rural areas. The main problem, from my perspective, is that with each passing year, the urban vote continues to strengthen, while the rural voice gets smaller, both at the state and national levels.
Living in the Austin city limits, I don’t usually have to wait long to be reminded of this gulf. My son’s Cub Scout troop has given me two good examples this year.
One night, one of the parents asked where I worked. I told him I work for all the cotton gins in Texas, with the exception of two or three. After staring at me a minute, this parent asked a very good question. He said, “What is the largest variable in your business?” I told him it was rain. After a long pause, the rest of the conversation went something like this: “How much variability can you expect from year to year? Our crop can range anywhere from 3.5 million bales to 8 million bales. Just because of the rain? Well, mainly, just because of the rain.” Another long pause, and then he said, “You are in a very strange business.”
A more humorous example from the same group was when the Cub Scouts brought their collections to the pack meeting in order to earn a belt loop. My son proudly brought his shotgun shell collection. He had it organized on a poster board and gave a good presentation, discussing the various gauges of shells, as well as why there are different shot sizes for different types of hunting.
When he finished, one of the kids asked whether he had shot any of the shells in his collection. He answered in the affirmative and showed them a few that he had shot and told them what he was hunting when he shot them. The next question a kid posed was whether he had shot them using a Wii or a Nintendo. The kid was perfectly serious when he asked it!
A large percentage of folks in Texas (and in America) live in a completely different world from ours. It is critical that we get our story out so that they understand where their food and clothing come from. Even my most urban neighbors are pretty quick to understand the importance of agriculture, if they give it a little thought. We have a big job ahead of us. Our politicians need to be continually educated, but we also need to be sure that average folks hear our message. Kids are a great place to start. We have a lot of field trips and presentations at the schools here in Austin, and it always surprises the students and teachers that the nearest cotton field is a 20- or 30-minute drive from their school.
One of my favorite questions to date came from the teacher who asked me to explain the difference between organic cotton and regular cotton to a group of third and fourth graders. First, I explained that all cotton comes from a plant, so, technically, it is all organic. Then, I explained that organic crops, as they understand the term, have to be grown in a very specific way. For example, I explained, you have seen the little white fertilizer pellets your parents use in your yard. Well, we use those same types of pellets on regular cotton, but you can’t use that on organic cotton. Most of the organic cotton is fertilized with cow poo!
Sometimes the shortest explanations are the most fun.
– Kelley Green, Austin, Texas