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The Look, The Feel Of Cotton

elizabeth tyson callicott“What do you want to be when you grow up?” When asked this question in my younger years, my response was never “a farmer.” Not because I didn’t want to be one, but back in the day, not many “girls” chose that vocation.

As a member of a fourth-generation farming family who raised cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat near Jackson, Tennessee, the opportunity for me to join in the business was there. I was born with a love for it and feel grateful to not just look at farmers for what they do, but for the extraordinary people they are.

Though I’ve never actually worked in the field, I dearly treasure my time spent on the turnrow and beyond. Growing up, I rode with my grandfather, father and brother in tractors, pickers and combines, jumped in a lot of cotton trailers, and made trips to the gin, grain elevator and co-op where I heard conversations about weather, price and “what kind of season it might be.”

As I watched my family and other farmers work so hard to make a crop, especially cotton, I remember wondering how they did it. How did they get through all the long, hot days of prepping, planting, spraying and harvesting? How did they so graciously handle the times of waiting for rain or for it to stop? Their tenacity made me “look” at what attention to detail it must take to farm such a labor-intensive crop and what kind of person could do such faithful work.

Surely it is someone with great courage, sheer determination and heroism to put aside the fear and worry such unpredictable factors can bring. No doubt a farmer is a person who can maintain calmness, stability and staying power when the going gets tough. This kind of strength of the men (and women) in my family surrounded me, made our farm such a special place and afforded me a view of agriculture of which I was proud to be a part. Being a farmer could very well be the best job anyone could ever choose.

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To this day, as I see my brother, Jim Tyson, managing the family’s day-to-day operations, I realize even more the many lessons I have learned from watching individuals like him pour their heart and soul into a crop, never knowing what the return will be in yield or money. Witnessing the sowing, laboring and trusting a farmer must do to reap a bountiful harvest amid favorable (and sometimes not so favorable) conditions, has taught me that a constant renewal of fortitude and commitment throughout each season must be part of a farmer’s job description.

The discipline must bring with it a deeper call to remember what matters most is not what comes out of the field but the motivation inside that keeps farmers returning season after season — win, lose or draw. I’ve often thought what satisfaction there must be in farming knowing that one’s work makes a difference in this world and the land itself. No other crop raised on our farm has revealed this to me more than cotton.

For many years, I most enjoyed the end product — how the fluffy bolls made fields “look” like snow or how it “felt” in the clothes I was wearing. It wasn’t until after I graduated from Mississippi State University and became an editor at Cotton Farming magazine that I began to truly value how God had weaved cotton into my life throughout every stage.

While working there, I learned about the crop’s growth process and the production practices of producers across the Cotton Belt. I also continued my interest in promoting cotton, which had begun in college with the Maid of Cotton contest where young women vied to be a goodwill ambassador for the industry in the United States and abroad. Although I didn’t win the title, the honor of meeting and being taught by so many educated and goodhearted folks is truly one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.

As I consider the opportunities I’ve had, I recognize that God let me be a part of the family farming business in a truly special way. Every time I look at cotton, I can’t help but think about how it makes me feel…. All grown up and so grateful to know a little about what it would be like to be a farmer.

— Elizabeth Tyson Callicott
Memphis, Tennessee
lizcallicott@bellsouth.net