SAREPTA — Brown cotton is a rare plant seen in north Louisiana, but two or three acres of it is grown in Sarepta.
Anthony “Tony” Mullins and his wife, Carol, grow several kinds of brown cotton, having sold the fruits of their crop worldwide. Mullins said when he retired from teaching after 35 years, he needed something to do and began growing brown cotton.
“It’s a Louisiana product,” he said. “When I was teaching at North Webster, I had the students pull up things that were Louisiana. They brought up things like Tabasco, and things like that, and then one of them said, ‘Well Coach, there’s brown cotton.’ I’d never seen brown cotton and didn’t know anything about it. So, I went online, did a little research and bought some seed.”
He planted and harvested nine varieties of cotton over a roughly three-acre patch of his 40-acre property. Different colors of cotton can be grown, he explained, saying he harvested varieties of brown, white and green from his own patch.
“There’s hundreds of different types of brown cotton,” he said. “I grew a Mississippi brown last year and I grew a Louisiana brown. There is a difference in the seed. The Acadians down in South Louisiana use the naked seed, and the Louisiana brown, from the north end of the state is a fuzzy seed.”
Brown cotton has made its way to Minden, at Glenbrook School, where he and the sixth-graders planted cotton at the end of the year as a school project. It is also grown at The Farm.
“Every year, I’d tell stories and we would grow things that were Louisiana,” he said. “One year, we grew sugar cane, another we grew muscadines, and a Louisiana tobacco.”
Mullins said since he began selling the cotton, it’s gone worldwide. Spinners and weavers from Belgium, Germany, and all across Europe have bought his cotton. “We’ve sold almost 100 pounds of fiber this year, all over the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Belgium,” he said. “I just sent some seed to Bulgaria.”
The Mullins handpick the cotton and then “gin it” through a small cotton gin. It is a small machine that sits on a tabletop. The cotton is put into the machine where blades separate the seeds from the boll or the cotton itself. The cotton is blown into a bag and the seed is spit from the bottom of the machine into a bucket, he said.
Spinners and weavers turn the soft, fluffy material into thread or yarn and make items such as prayer shawls, table napkins and an assortment of clothing from it, he said.
Mullins said growing brown cotton has done more than just give him something to do. It allows him to share stories of Louisiana, and in a sense, continue to teach.