Well, well, well this summer has just about passed me by without getting this newsletter out. I am not proud to report to all of you that our beautiful cotton did get overrun with pigweed and lambs quarters and bindweed. And in the funk that it left me in to be doing such hard work on way too many acres planted with great enthusiasm - thanks to the glorious center pivot irrigation system that I am still very much in love with- I did not attend very well to the business of selling the products that sustain all of these fun and games. But most of the cotton did get rescued in time, with one last large seed increase plot still being worked on now- which we hope to finish in time to run the cotton picker through in November. This is the reason that I am way late in sending this update of a newsletter out to all of you.
Although I have a farm- and have been farming my cotton since 1984, I am not what anyone in the know would really call a farmer. Especially with this year's bumper crop of massive weeds that we are still hacking out! Real farmers specialize in providing their crops with all that they need with the utmost of care and the maximum of efficiency so that their customers are able to enjoy food and fiber products that are as economical and as ecological as they can be (in the scale that is appropriate). Normal cotton producers in the United States (organic and conventional) talk in units of 40 acre fields and the average cotton farmer tends between 500-2000 acres of cotton per year. At this scale the equipment required makes sense.
Normal plant breeders on the other hand, keep track of all of their breeding lines, how they grow and how they compare to other seed lines or established varieties. But they look to farmers to be their cooperators. Farmers who prepare the soil and then the breeder shows up with a crew to plant the test plots. Then the farmer is in charge of cultivating and hiring the crews to weed and irrigate. The breeder makes cross pollinations, collects the seeds from the cross pollinations that set seed, make plant and plot selections, hand picks those and then does all the prep work and evaluations to be ready for the next season. When a breeding line is great and ready to be increased for seed production and can be grown in a large enough area to be picked by a machine the breeder pays for all the machinery clean outs, but they do not need to own their own cotton picker. Generally cotton breeders either work for private industry (Monsanto, Bayer Crop Sciences, etc), or a Land Grant University (University of California, Texas A&M, etc) or for the USDA and are provided with all infrastructure appropriate to smaller scale breeder plots. But normal industry so far sees little potential for naturally colorful cottons, nor do the universities wish to alienate their crop commodity base by supporting it's R & D. The organic seed funding organizations want to fund university breeding programs, not private industry- and so, so far, I have found no support from them. Without help from any of these organizations whatsoever, it remains just me, and all of you.
For these reasons I have had to take on the role of the farmer, the breeder, as well as the product developer and marketer all these three and a half decades now.
To fund it all I used to work as a biologist/microbiologist. Then after developing machine spinnable, and washable open pollinated varieties this costly work was paid for with sales of the cotton bales themselves. Produced by the real organic farmers that operated at the scale that allowed the cotton to be grown the most efficiently.
Now I fund this research by selling yarns and other products that I have produced from my cotton and my farm on my website : www.vreseis.com .
Alongside my regular products (10/2 and 18/2 yarns and slivers of each color) I introduce a few new products every season. The Persephone Tunic by Myrrhia being one that I am particularly excited about. Tours of the historical cottons (there are still two scheduled -and if you can organize a group of 6-10 people I can schedule a tour just for your group), the fabrics from Japan, and soon a green pre-mordanted french terry fabric just for natural dyers.
I remain grateful to have been able to spend so much of my life working on this engaging and captivating project. Funded in no small part by all of you who buy yarns, fabrics, slivers, and wool or who have made donations.
Thank you sincerely for your support, kindness, generosity and creativity over these decades; I remain committed to ginning up this dream of cotton that grows organically in color, so that it can be used by industry once again.
13 years into my breeding program I had developed varieties of Foxfibre® Colorganic® cottons that were significantly better than the first generation of varieties (which had allowed my cottons to enter the industrial marketplace- the varieties were named "Coyote" brown and "Green" green). What I started with could not even be machine spun, so I have no samples of them to show you. On the left are the original varieties that could be machine spun. And when laundered, they got darker- see the fabric swatches that look lighter on the left of each fabric sampler ( in this photo only the green colors show the effect, but the browns do indeed get darker with washing)? Those fabric swatches are raw, unwashed. The background fabric is the fabric that was washed once. As you may know the colors continue to deepen after each washing. On the right are the newer varieties. They are not only deeper in color, they are much longer in fiber-making them easier to spin- and they are stronger. Compare the L values- from 0.93" for "Green" to 1.20" for 809699. What I have now (just a mere 34 years of work into this) are seed lines that produce cottons that are longer, stronger, more intense in color and higher yielding. Don't let anyone tell you that classical plant breeding is too slow, or not powerful enough.