International spouses harvest hands-on agricultural experience
Spouses of international officers attending Air University visit Richard and Becky Edgars’ cotton farm in Deatsville, Ala., Sept. 22. (Air Force photo/Wendy Simonds)
International spouses harvest hands-on agricultural experience

by Kimberly L. Wright
Air University Public Affairs

10/4/2010 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Laughter is not a sound typically heard in a cotton field, nor is it common for people to cheer upon seeing one.

Thirty spouses from all over the world, however, found a visit to a cotton field outside of Deatsville to be an occasion for cheers, photographs, laughter and learning on a very warm first day of fall, Sept. 22.

The spouses visited the field as part of their cultural education via the International Dependents English Course, a six-week course which helps spouses of International officers attending professional military education at Maxwell adjust to life in the U.S. In addition to the cotton field visit, the group previously visited the Alabama governor's mansion, the Rosa Parks Museum and Library and the Civil Rights Memorial.

Some of the group didn't know what to expect last week. Deborah Yong of Singapore, a first-time visitor to a cotton field, asked before arriving at the field, "It is a bush or a tree? I've never seen a field or where they grow stuff. Singapore is too small to grow anything."

This round of cultural immersion took a hands-on approach. Complete with sunscreen, sun hats, bags and scissors, the spouses plucked cotton bolls at the field, owned by Richard and Becky Edgar, while peppering Mrs. Edgar with questions about cotton planting, harvesting and production.

The group also poked, prodded and posed for photos against a cotton module, a large, rectangular pile of harvested cotton often seen after a field is harvested. The visitors examined a working module builder -- a loud, rectangular machine resembling a dumpster that packs harvested cotton into a module -- and examined and photographed a tractor and a cotton picker, one of the towering machines that snatch the cotton from the plants.

Marsha Monroe, one of the volunteer IDEC teachers, said that the purpose of the trip is part cultural and part craft. "At some point, we will make cotton angels, and they will keep it as a memento or for Christmas trees or whatever," she said. Also, the cotton field visits are relevant for "not only just American culture but Southern culture," as cotton figured prominently into the region's past.

This is the fourth year that IDEC students have visited the Edgars' cotton field. Last year, in addition to picking cotton, the IDEC students were taken to a cotton gin to see the ginning process, which separates the cotton from the seeds. "We look forward to this every year," said Mrs. Edgar. "We like meeting these ladies from all over the world." Mrs. Edgar explained the cotton planting and harvesting process. Cotton is planted in April and May and harvested in the fall, depending on the weather. Last year, because of the wet weather, cotton wasn't harvested until late November.

Amelie Kaladjian of France used the opportunity as a way to provide an educational experience for herself and her children. She picked bolls in different stages of opening to show the children as "there is no cotton in France," she said. The time spent at the cotton field was "very fun, a little too hot, but fun to give presents to my neighbor and my sponsor," she said.

The IDEC students graduate today, but it won't be the end of the line for their learning and experiencing a foreign culture together. They plan on meeting once a week from here on out. "We do a lot of different things that are fun," said Peggy Funk, one of the IDEC volunteers. "I love it. It's so fun to meet people from all over the world."