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When Fashion Teachers Tour the Farm

When you take a fashion teacher on a farm tour you give them an authentic learning experience that gets shared with their students.

I shouldn’t say fashion teacher because I’m talking about any teacher in the visual arts and design track of family and consumer sciences (FCS). These teachers instruct classes in three areas:

         1.  Apparel and textile merchandizing and production

         2.  Fashion design

         3. Interior design

Every one of these has a connection with agriculture, so it’s time we make that connection and “Say Yes to FCS”.

This summer I had the opportunity to take North Carolina FCS teachers on a Farm to Fashion tour focusing on cotton. We visited Thomas Burleson & Sons Farm and Rolling Hills Gin. The tour concluded at the Wrangler and Less Support Services center, which does product development and test finishing on denim.  The trip allowed teachers to follow cotton from the field to one possible final product.

In talking with these teachers, they were eager to learn more about the agriculture side of cotton. Their own college courses of study on textiles didn’t include that part of the process, yet it’s expected to be a part of their own lesson plans. Now those plans can be written from their own experience. One teacher said, “I learned things about cotton and a gin that I didn’t know before, so I feel that I can make a genuine connection now.”

A focus of all FCS classes is to meet workforce and economic needs. Agriculture is a $75 billion industry in my state and growing. The tour “tied 21st century jobs to student needs,” said one teacher. It also allowed teachers to “gain valuable information about the agriculture technology system and how it is interrelated with manufacturing tech systems. 

The interest in local fiber is growing. One example is Cotton of the Carolinas, made by TS Designs. Each shirt has a contrasting stitching color on the inside of the shirt. Visiting the website, you enter that color and can track your shirt from dirt to shirt. I have one of their T-shirts and was able to track it online. I learned my shirt traveled 446 miles from dirt to shirt and was made from 100% cotton grown in NC. I could even read about the companies involved from the farmer to the printer and every step in between.

Wrangler’s “Rooted” collection is also capitalizing on the interest in local fiber. We heard about this line while visiting the NC Wrangler and Lee Support Services Center. The “Rooted” jeans are made in the USA.   Cotton from North Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee has been used to make state-specific jeans. Each cotton farm is profiled on its website. 

Cotton isn’t the only way agriculture ties into textiles and apparel. Wool, hemp, and leather are all used to make clothing. 

Let’s not forget interior design, which includes curtains, bedding, upholstery, and decorative touches like throw pillows. Textiles are part of all these industries.

Why should agriculture work with FCS teachers in visual arts and design? One teacher summed it up when explaining how they would use what they learned in their classroom:

“To explain the cotton preparation process in a more informed way and stress the importance of our farmers and textile workers for careers.”

If that’s not enough reason, another teacher shared how they and their students would benefit from the tour:

“They will understand more about how agriculture impacts their lives.”

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