BOSTWICK | In December, when the weather was balmy and the Dawg Nation was celebrating Georgia’s splendorous advancement into a playoff opportunity in the Rose Bowl, I took a long lunch break in Morgan County to enjoy a nice barbecue plate with Ricky Cochran at Crowe’s BBQ, run by Phillip and Sandra Crowe.
Not here but in Madison, one of my favorite communities – a cozy place where the living is easy and good feelings wash over those who are only passing through.
My stop was all too brief. Wish I could have lingered longer with the Crowe’s, classic Bulldog fans. Time constraints were also an issue when Ricky introduced me to John Ruark, who along with his father, Marvin, and his cousin, Mark Ruark, own and operate Bostwick Cotton Gin.
If you haven’t heard, cotton has made a comeback which is not only good news for cotton farmers, it rings positive across our entire society. You may not have considered this salient fact, but when you buy cotton products, you are aiding and abetting the environment in a big way.
While it is a topic for another day, we are killing our planet with synthetic materials and plastic. A cotton garment will deteriorate and decompose in a few months, but those handy grocery bags housewives tote to their kitchen each week are choking us to death. It takes dozens of years for one of those grocery bags to decay in a landfill. Buy cotton, live longer.
The Ruarks took me back to my youth when they cranked up their Lummus gin (corporate headquarters in Savannah), which then began to do what it has done for years – separate the fluffy cotton fibers from the seeds. The cotton goes one way for baling purposes and the seeds another for such products as cottonseed oil, cattle feed and seed for a future cotton crop.
The Bostwick Cotton Gin is housed in the same building where it was installed in the early ’40s. The building, weathered and airy, is old and it looks it. There is debris about and lint clinging from rafters, support posts and cross beams. The place looks like it might be where Spiderman takes respite. A cotton gin doesn’t have to look pretty to function, however. I watched as the Ruarks and Buster Peters fed raw cotton into the gin, which sang out with a roar which makes conversation difficult. To talk, you have to raise your voice like a seasoned football coach yelling encouragement and epithets on a practice field.
If you happen to have grown up on a cotton farm, the roar of a cotton gin is the sweet sound of music. That roar means that the cotton has been picked and has gone to processing, which means that life is suddenly compatible with relaxation. It also means that debt obligations can be met, bills can be paid and Santa Claus might be more generous than expected.
John Ruark, who has been farming all his life, is a member of the Georgia Cotton Commission. He is a beneficiary of cotton’s comeback as Georgia, with over 1.3 million acres of cotton planted, is second only to Texas in cotton production.
There are roughly 60 cotton gins in our state and fortunately no boll weevils, that dastardly insect having been eradicated except for a few counties deep in South Texas.
With the boll weevil menace and the coming of synthetic fibers — along with back breaking labor to pick cotton — cotton went on a decline for years. The boll weevil starts hibernating in the fall, which led to farmers in North Carolina spraying the cotton fields as winter approached which led to eradication. This routine first took place in the 1980s and spread across the South, which has allowed cotton to flourish.
Driving home to Athens, I saw fields of cotton being picked by mechanical cotton pickers. This brought about recall of by-gone days when the fields had to be sprayed during the summer to control the weevils when cotton was picked by hand. It was a hard life. Wish my daddy and granddaddy were around today to plant cotton seed in the spring with confidence that better days lay ahead come fall.
While I no longer have a vested interest in cotton, I can cheer for the cotton farmers and appreciate that I can give synthetics and plastic the back of my hand. The most sobering news is that the boll weevil no longer has a home.