When the cotton is high

‘Fish is jumpin and the cotton is high’ is of course from the 1935 song Summertime, Porgy & Bess; a favourite of my late father and one of the many wonders that I learned from him. But I’d never been near a cotton field, until today

http://www.antbirlik.com.trI have been with the Board of Co-operatives Europe, meeting in Antalya, Turkey, and then speaking at a Social Economy conference where I met members from two agricultural co-operatives, Antbirlik and Pankobirlik. An invitation followed and this morning I came into a world of cotton.

Antbirlik is a regional cooperative that started processing and marketing cotton from local farmers before the Antalya region became what it is today, a well developed tourist destination, with its beaches, mountains, archaeological heritage and warm micro-climate, with seas warm enough to swim in at dawn in December (yes… I like to if I can).

Today the co-op has ten thousand members and has diversified into a range of products, including oranges, lemons and above all olives. I am told that the Anatolian olive has a heart shaped stone and that the region is said to include the earliest settlement in time to harvest olives.

When the cotton comes in from the fields, it heads for a factory run by the co-op, which can process 200 tonnes every day. From there, the packed cotton, wonderfully soft, heads off across Turkey to be made into products for Adidas, Nike and Puma among others.

I know that cotton can be a water intensive product to grow, but the members I talk to say that in an area still with swamps, that is not yet an issue. They do operate an environmental accreditation system, Better Cotton, and support farmers with advice, but it is not organic; that is something for the future, they hope.

The cotton is loaded into a mini mountain at the entrance to the works. The cotton is high.

Then, within the factory itself, cotton is everywhere, as the threads rise and fall in the air, hanging like artwork on ladder steps and machinery frames.

The beauty of the cotton, soft and grey-white (with the remnants separated out to make animal feed) is a point of pride for the members that show us around.

They had made this. Together.