The Long Journey

By Don Molino
Baton Rouge, La.

I was born and grew up in northeast Texas – Paris to be more specific. That’s 105 miles due northeast of Dallas and 13 miles south of the Red River and Oklahoma where I’m told teenagers could buy beer with no questions asked. But that may have been just another wild rumor.

Chances are, if you look on the label of your Campbell’s Soup can at home, you’ll find it was made in Paris, which is also the hometown of National Football League Hall of Fame member Raymond Berry, whose father was our longtime high school football coach. Paris also has the distinction of being the hometown of two former NFL head coaches, the aforementioned Berry, who coached the New England Patriots, and Gene Stallings, who coached the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals at the same time.

Back then, the rich black soil of Lamar County supported cattle, corn, vegetables and King Cotton, a lot of King Cotton if memory serves me correctly. My great aunt and uncle grew some cotton on their place in the neighboring county, and my cousin Hilda and I would diligently do our best to chop the weeds from between the cotton rows. Since we were rather young, I don’t know how much real good we did at hoeing, but Aunt Bena and Uncle David were always very encouraging.

My first morning of learning to pick cotton by hand started very early, naturally, when I joined my best friend Glen as we headed to the field. I learned quickly that I should have worn gloves. Fortunately, one of the real pickers had an extra pair that saved my life that day. Now, those of you who remember dragging a cotton sack trying not to pick up any trash and not bleed all over the cotton from the numerous cuts caused by the sharp points on the plants will know exactly what I’m talking about. I think I was paid five cents a pound, but it’s been a lot of years since then, so my memory might have slipped just a bit. However, I do remember being rather proud the first day I was able to pick 100 pounds!

That being said, those days in the cotton fields of northeast Texas proved several things to me: 1) I NEVER wanted to do that again, 2) college was probably the way to go and 3) there had to be a better way to pick cotton. Thank you, John Deere and Case IH.

I’ve been a farm broadcaster for 25 years now and have never regretted one single day. I know I’m “preaching to the choir,” but farmers and ranchers are some of the nicest people you’ll ever get to meet with endless stories to tell.

Thanks to my work in farm broadcasting, I’ve seen things and been places I had only heard about. Brazil, Argentina and Cuba come quickly to mind. I remember standing in the middle of a clean soybean field in Brazil and asking the farmer where the fire ants were. He smiled and said, “We still have Myrex.”

I recall sitting down at a long table on a ranch in Argentina and chowing down on a bull that was slaughtered just for our group and eating beef that had slow roasted for several days. I saw the abject poverty of Cuba and the battles its people fight just to make it through each day.

I’ve stood in the middle of a huge cattle ranch in Montana when a blue norther slams down from Canada and felt the temperature drop from comfortable to freezing in what seemed like seconds. I’ve toured cotton fields and gins across the Cotton Belt, been awed by the science at Cotton Incorporated and wilted under a hot sun sitting on a bale of hay in the middle of the LSU Ag Center’s Rice Research Station. How can I ever forget being told about the latest research designed to keep providing food and fiber to an ever growing world population?

I’ve learned a lot about agriculture since my cotton picking days in Lamar County, and I’ve got a lot more to learn in the future. I’m looking forward to it.

– Don Molino, Baton Rouge, La.

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