I found that I belong to the earth. I belong connected to the land.
My husband lived for a time in Rocky Mount. When we’d go visit, we’d pass cotton fields in Eastern North Carolina that always gave me the chills. It made me uncomfortable, but we’d never really talked about it. It was never really a big thing. We never stopped. We’d just drive through.
Maybe 5 years ago – it could have been longer – I was shopping for craft supplies in Michaels when I noticed that some of the decorations you could purchase were, um … Cotton? It was kinda up high too. I couldn’t help but notice it as soon as I walked in the door.
“What the hell they got cotton in here for?!?”
I don’t even know in that moment how I really felt – but I knew it wasn’t right. I knew I didn’t like it. I’m not sure if I became angry or frustrated. But in that moment, I knew it wasn’t right.
My son Malik was with me. I said to him “Who the hell buys cotton? Is that a centerpiece?”
He was like “Mom, it’s ok. People buy that.” And that stuck with me.
I went back again and saw it. I even had a conversation about it with a farmer friend – a really dear friend of mine. She does a lot of social justice and racial equity work. We’re really good friends from back at the Carrboro Farmers Market and I love her dearly. She said that cotton was part of her growing flowers. People like to have it in their bouquet.
Like… What the fuck? It’s weird. I don’t like cotton. Why the hell are you growing cotton? Who wants that at their table?
My mother’s grandmother who I didn’t know, maybe she picked cotton. My great grandmother was born in 1804, so her mother would have been a slave and probably picked cotton. I continue to be triggered and angry around seeing cotton. Not touching it. Not picking it. Not being in slave conversations. Looking at cotton makes me angry.
Part of my own healing work that I’ve had to do over the last couple of years is really trying to dig deep into who I am. What makes me who I am. Why I have the passions that I have. To heal from some past shit. Some known. Some unknown.
Finally, I just said “you know what? I hate this cotton thing so bad that I really need to figure it out.”
So believe it or not, my son Malik had some cotton seeds.
He said “a friend of mine gave me these organic cotton seeds and mama – do you wanna grow some?”
“Yeah. I think I do.”
He gave me this little plastic bag with maybe four cotton seeds in it, and I had no idea how to germinate them. I went online and figured all that out and started them in the house on my windowsill. They started coming up, so I put them outside in my backyard and said “I’m gonna grow some fucking cotton.”
I went out there. I made my little garden beds. I’m gonna grow some fucking cotton. I’m gonna figure this out. I’m tired of being sick. I’m tired of being depressed. I’m gonna grow this cotton.
Over the summer – I went out and wept over the plants.
My grandma died recently. Almost two years ago now. And when I’m outside in the dirt I feel like I’m with her. And so I started going outside. Playing in the dirt. I try to grow things that she would have loved. Okra. Creasy Greens. Collard greens. Tomatoes.
Looking at this thing growing, I had no idea if it would even produce cotton. How big it would get. I’m clueless when it comes to cotton. I did some research. I knew it needed sunlight. I just kept going back and forth from my house to the garden.
I remember one day, the wind blew it over, but not up-root. The whole plant just bent over. I came out and stomped on the roots and pushed it back down. Three days later, it started cracking open. I was like… there may actually be some cotton in there!
And it continued to grow bigger. You know, I’m not even sure what to call the… well… buds? They were all over the plant and started coming open. I asked Malik “what’s it gonna do?”
The first one I pulled off and brought it in the house. I opened it up and it was this greyish green color. Not white. Malik told me it wouldn’t be white. And there were so many seeds inside. It felt of silk. I cried. And cried. And cried and cried and cried.
I felt the only real way for me to deal with this cotton thing is to… well….. embrace it in a different way. Grow it myself. Know that nobody forced you to do that. Sitting with that, I turned around this Post Traumatic Slave Disorder – what ails my people. My whole point of my farming in Alamance County is because there are no farmers of color. Elon university helped me do a bunch of research on farms of color and really the absence of them. I couldn’t find any. What I tell my congregation is that we don’t embrace what God said was good.
“Shit… We love to eat! Where are the growers at?”
Along the journey of trying to deal with the cotton situation – why it was such a struggle for me – I found a lot of different stuff in there too…
I found that I belong to the earth. I belong connected to the land. I’m grounded, rooted in. I’m thinking about my ancestors. And the struggle, but also the resilience.
Certainly a struggle there. Not to be forgotten. Not to be erased. And not to be hidden or taken but good resilience there too. And so I think I found a different kind of hope.
Taking the cotton seeds when I had no idea of what cotton seeds look like. No clue how to grow it. And then watching not one plant, but five plants grow in my backyard. And picking that cotton. And praying over that cotton. I made an altar in my house that has the cotton that I grew, cotton seeds, and a few things that my grandmother gave me. I’ll light a candle and I’ll think about her. And those who raised me. And how they are rooting me on. They are cheering for me right now.
This has helped me with grief. Grief is very tricky and sneaky – in that you think you know something about grief. Until particular people or things in your life are removed. My grandmother lived a nice long life. She was in her 80s when she died. She didn’t suffer. She slept her way to the other side. Grief didn’t really hit me until a year after she died. I felt good. I had a lot of things that belonged to her. Plenty of good memories. Knew how to cook from her. All her recipes. But about a year after she died, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
That’s really when I started being outside and communing more with the land. I know she’s there with me. I know she’s there with me and she is thrilled. Thrilled that I’m buying a farm. She’s thrilled that I’m not a cookie cutter preacher. She’s really glad that I’m getting on with life. And I think she’s glad that I’m here, past this struggle. Down the line from there, our people can really be who they are called to be. Strong. Resilient. Courageous.
And so In the end, this made me realize that cotton didn’t betray me. The land didn’t betray me. People did that.
I think cotton pushed me home. Pushed me to be grounded. And think differently. And hopefully be a voice for other people – particularly black people – to heal from the past trauma of our ancestors. And also find some healing from grief.
It works for me. It helps me breathe. It helps me heal.
About the author
LaShauna is an ordained faith leader with a fierce commitment to, and deep experience with, building strong, vibrant, and sustainable communities as well as a demonstrated record of collaborating with rural communities, faith and non-faith based organizations to address race, food justice and equity issues. She carries professional and personal passion for, and involvement with, a variety of racial equity organizations, initiatives and food systems in the surrounding area. LaShauna is the Executive Director of Benevolence Farm and owner of Kindred Seedlings.