Food, Fiber, and Fuel. They are essential to life. Have you ever thought about their sources and whether what you buy is Made in America or imported? The sources for America’s food, fiber, and fuel have an incredible impact on our national security, economy, food safety, and availability of necessary goods. The agricultural industry is highly competitive, strictly regulated, and largely impacted by tax, trade, and regulatory policies. How do those policies affect the millions of families cultivating our rich farmland in small towns all across the country? How do those policies affect you, the consumer? In this episode, learn from Tracy Woodard as she shares with Linda the story of the multi-generational Woodard Farms, and the family tragedy and faith that led to their mission to provide hope and healing to hurting families through their business, Covered in Cotton.
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Linda J Hansen: Thank you for joining us today. If you’re a regular listener you know that I often highlight business owners who are committed to producing products made in America. According to Consumer Reports 8 in 10 consumers would prefer to buy American-made products over foreign-made products even if they cost a little more. I love to support individuals and companies committed to building a strong America by building strong companies providing jobs and producing quality products for consumers.
Today I have Tracy Woodard. Tracy Woodard is a cofounder of Covered in Cotton. For three generations the Woodard family has put their hand and heart into the fertile soil of Darlington, South Carolina. A passion to steward the land and its fruits began with Frank Woodard, Jr. as he purchased the first plot of farmland nestled within the sprawling rural landscape of Darlington County in 1962. He passed the dream and determination to sow and reap not only crops, but a legacy of stewardship and family to his sons and grandsons. Over the decades, Woodard Farms has grown in every sense, but still reaps a harvest from that very plot of land where it all began.
Covered in Cotton was sown from that same seed planted five decades ago—the dream to cultivate something lasting and a harvest that impacts families beyond our fields. With a vision to create a product from their locally grown upland cotton, Ty Woodard and his wife Tracy spent years dreaming of a way to share not just their story, but the story of agriculture. After an actual dream in 2017, Covered in Cotton was born with a mission to cultivate. Family and farm are woven together at the center of Covered in Cotton as they’ve worked closely with all local family-owned businesses right in their back yard of the Carolinas. Their commitment is to invest in American families and businesses with a promise to be remain proudly made in the USA.
With that I welcome Tracy Woodard. Thank you for joining us today.
Tracy Woodard: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Linda: It’s a pleasure to meet you and we give kudos to Brad Winnings over at Made in America. People can go to madeinamerica.com, but he’s the one who introduced us and I just so appreciate that because I love your mission. I love the story of your family, your business and I just felt our listeners would love to hear from you as well. You have a mission to cultivate. Can you explain your mission?
Tracy: Sure. So the most important things to us and our family are our faith, our family, and our farm. Our mission to cultivate really encompasses those three things. Really it’s really kind of three-pronged. For us to cultivate the natural comfort and quality of cotton grown and produced here in the US and then invite people into relationships so that they can see the truth and even the wonder of agriculture because there’s so many mysteries and misunderstandings when it comes to agriculture and how food, fuel and fiber is produced in our country.
Lastly, most importantly, we want to cultivate a cause that tells a story and shares hope. For us our hope is in Jesus Christ and our story and His faithfulness in that gives us the opportunity to share that with other people through our Cotton with a Cause which is based off of our story in our family back in 2015 when our youngest son, Tobin, had bacterial meningitis and went through a very scary time in the hospital, had emergency brain surgery, and we were cautioned that he may never develop, developmentally past three months old, and he may lose his vision or his hearing and then there was a very real possibility that that he will not survive.
We had a kind nurse give us a blanket during that time among so many other people who loved on us and cared for us during that season in our lives and that blanket became not only a practical gift but just a reminder of the Lord just covering and protecting our family during some the worse times of life. So when the dream for Covered in Cotton came, and we finally had this idea to take the cotton we grow on our family farm and make it into products, a blanket was a natural fit and it just came full circle for us to provide some source of comfort for other families who maybe are going through what something similar to what we did. For every ten throw blankets that we sell, we donate one to a children’s hospital in South Carolina.
Linda: That’s beautiful. Your Cotton with a Cause is really what caught my eye. I just felt what a beautiful story that you turned a tragedy into triumph, but also a way to minister to other families who may be hurting. What a beautiful testimony but also what beautiful products. Your website is coveredincotton.com and I found so many beautiful products there. Our listeners can go there and see these beautiful throws and many different products that come right from this family farm and come with this heart of giving back and producing products made right here in America.
A lot of people don’t realize when they go to the store, there are products that they think are made in America because they may be distributed or sold by an American company, but the products aren’t necessarily made in America. As you look at your clothing tags, I encourage everyone to look at your clothing, look at your textiles, and find things made in America. That supports our country and it also supports families like Tracy’s who are building businesses, providing jobs, supporting their local communities, and giving back to their local communities and to people who are in need.
Can you tell us the story of your family? Tell us about this dream you had where Covered in Cotton was born.
Tracy: Really the story starts, and you mentioned it in your introduction, my husband’s family have been farming for three generations. We’re coming up on the fourth. My children are very much a part of the farm and love being out here and being a help. When I married my husband, when you marry a farmer, you marry the farm. The farm family—I was a city girl by most accounts and just had a lot to learn of what it looked like for this life style because it’s not just a job you clock in and clock out of, it’s what we give a lot of our life to.
As I grew in my passion for agriculture and just really kind of finding my place and what it looks like to contribute to the farm and to agriculture as a whole and how to tell that story because farmers are so busy doing what they do that the story of agriculture sometimes gets lost and what is actually happening.
Anyways in December of 2017, Ty, my husband, and I had talked for years about how it would be really cool for us to make a product from something we grow on our farm. We’re a large row crop farm that we don’t deal directly with consumers. Our crops go on the commodity markets and are all over the world, so we were missing that connection with the end consumer. It was always just this conversation we had. It was never— we could never think of any great ideas. I woke up that December morning and it was a vision that the Lord gave me—Covered in Cotton was the name, what the logo was supposed to look like, and how even our story of our son exactly two years prior to that was how it would connect in with everything else as well. I wrote it all down and then woke Ty up and I said, “Hey. This is what we are supposed to do.” I showed him everything. He’s an incredible man, an incredible husband, and he said, “Ok. Let’s do it.”
That time of the year we had already sold our cotton crop that we harvest in the fall. He got on the phone on Monday morning and called our gin and said, “Hey, we need to buy back some of our cotton. We have no idea how much. We don’t know anything about what we’re doing. We just know that we need to get some of it.” The funny part of the story is that we had to buy it back for more than we sold it for. But we got it and then just started on the journey of trying to figure out how to put all the pieces together.
We had been growing cotton for decades. But after it left the gin, we really had no idea of what the process looked like in the textile industry and how the end product is actually produced. The majority of the cotton that’s grown in our country leaves our country to be manufactured or produced and then to be make it back this way for products. To grow the cotton and manage the production process and to sell the cotton product is very unusual in our country. It’s very rare. There are not many farmers out there doing that. It’s been a fun journey of just learning along the way and having so many kind and generous people teach us so many things that we didn’t already know. It was a lot.
Linda: I’m sure. I’m sure. It was a whole new industry for you really. What was your first step in learning how to produce these textiles?
Tracy: Well, I Googled as many things as I could. I picked up the phone and just started calling people to say, “Hey. I know what the product needs to be but I don’t know how to get there.” The textile industry is a lot like the agricultural industry in a lot of ways. It’s small and tight knit. There were so many people that said, “Well, have you called this person or have you checked these guys?” It kind of just snowballed along the way.
We found who was going to actually spin the cotton into yarn and then make some connections there. We found the commercial weaver who was going to weave our throws. At the time it was our only products. And really just kind of started piecing everything together and just asking each other questions and had to really take on a lot of humility. I’m like, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Could you explain that to me?” It was really cool finally to see it all come together because we started that in really that January, 2018, and then we officially launched our website and new products in October of 2018. So, not a quick process.
Linda: You have a fairly young company, but it sounds like it’s growing and your product assortment is growing.
Can you tell us some of the most exciting things that you’ve seen happen through Covered in Cotton?
Tracy: Well, one of—a huge recent highlight for us and really changed things overnight. Garden & Gun magazine named us their Made in the South award winner. That was in the fall of 2019. We sold out of every bit of our inventory in ten days. What was really cool about that is it helped us start thinking bigger. Up to that point everything was out of our house. Within two months, we were renting space—2000 square-foot of warehouse space—for us to expand and start thinking bigger than what we had already been. That opened a lot of doors. John Deere reached out to us and featured us in one of their commercials alongside some other farmers and John Deere owners that were doing some different things in the community. Woman’s Day magazine told a little bit of our story about our son and our throws. Country Living magazine featured one of our hand towels. These things that seemed so like a dream really have been—the Lord has just continued to bring them and open these doors so much not of our own doing. He’s just put these pieces together. Just the opportunity for us to get to share what we love to do and share about our farm, and our faith, and our story, and our son really has been this unexpected blessing. We really set out and I remember my husband and I said, “If we could sell a hundred blankets, that would be awesome.” (Laughs) And so we’ve definitely sold more than 100 blankets. (Laughs)
Linda: That’s wonderful. That is really wonderful. You had an obedient spirit that just branched out. I always say, “You don’t always need to know the final destination especially when you’re following something that the Lord asked you to do. You just need to know the next step and the next step will come, and the step after that will come and then you’ll look back and go ‘Wow. This is amazing.’” That’s just fantastic. The Lord’s blessing not only on the health of your family. You have three children?
Tracy: That’s right.
Linda: Yes, and this little one who was so sick is healthy and strong and growing up, loving the farm and that’s just a wonderful blessing in itself. You know that there are families who still struggle with those issues or they might even lose little ones. So those throws are—you’re wrapping your arms of love around them when you donate those blankets. I’m sure you’ve had wonderful stories from the families that are blessed with the blankets, too.
Tracy: That’s truly the most special thing to us is to hear from those families that say, “I just got the worse news of my life, this diagnosis for my child, and I had this blanket waiting there and just to know that somebody out there that I’ve never met, and probably will never meet, is praying for us or has gone through something seemingly so hopeless as well.” It’s been the greatest blessing to see that and to see how those donations just are some source of comfort and are helping some other people. It means a whole lot.
Linda: It’s beautiful and what a legacy you are leaving for your children, too. That’s a great story and a great example for other business owners. Sometimes we think business owners are afraid to give back so much and so generously. We can’t out give God and when we do that in a sense of love for him and love for other people it always comes back to be a blessing. I applaud your boldness and your courage in starting a business that you didn’t really know anything about. Kudos to you and your husband for pressing on forward. I know that you involve a lot of local business owners, local artisans, every thing.
Could you tell us a little bit more about how you help the local economy through this booming business?
Tracy: You mentioned everything is really in our backyard of the Carolinas. That wasn’t something we originally set out to do. It just happened that way which we’re so grateful for. So after the cotton leaves our farm, it goes to the cotton gin which basically removes the seed from the lint of the cotton. From there it goes to Thomasville, North Carolina, where the yarn spinner spins the yarn. From there it goes to Hickory, North Carolina, where the yarn is plied together and from there to Blackburn, South Carolina where our weaver weaves the throws and the fabric for everyone who gets hand towels. And from there it comes back a little closer us in Lamar which is a small community in Darlington County and it comes to a place called Craig Industries where they sew on the labels to our throws and cut and sew and hem the baby blankets and hand towels. And then it comes back to us on the farm where we package and fill orders from our website.
You see how many different companies are along the process and so many of them in the textile industry are not what they once were even when it comes to employees and having the work force to be able to complete the jobs. I’ve spoken to them and said, “Hey, will this trade agreement work or will this new thing, will that help the textile industry?” We just have a hard time finding people to do the work. We love that we are able to provide the work for the person they do have and even give them an opportunity to reach out and involve more people in the work force. We’ve seen this past year with Covid some of their businesses shut down over night because they provided NCAA apparel for sports teams for seasons that were cancelled all together and don’t have a need for their services any more, we were still in production. We were still sending things through even in some instances providing full time work on just our products for some employees. And these are small towns, these are rural towns. Being able to see and visit these places, and see that we’re investing in these businesses that are providing jobs that are family run and locally owned businesses. I think it means more for sure and we get the opportunity to tell some of their story. We’re Clemson grads and we were just featured in Clemson World magazine and our weaver is a Clemson grad, too. We got to bring him in and they got to tell some of his story and how his father started his company. So it’s really cool that we are able to not just share our story but the story of others who’ve helped make it happen.
Linda: Well, that’s true and small businesses are the largest employer in America. We just really support and applaud small businesses. With family owned businesses there’s a special bond. I was part of a family owned business and loved it and I just feel like there is a special bond there and a special legacy. When we can help these families to continue to build their businesses and to provide jobs in their communities, it’s really important.
The agriculture industry, like you said, a lot of people don’t understand it. I’ve met people who go to the store and don’t even realize that their beef comes from cows. They don’t realize that their cotton shirt comes from a farm. They just don’t think about the source of all the products that they consume or use. I’d like you to share a little bit about not only helping people understand the agricultural industry, but also what types of policies at local, state, or national levels have helped or hurt your business and your ability to provide jobs whether on the farm or through Covered in Cotton.
Tracy: Sure. I like to tell this story because a lot of people don’t understand the disconnect with agriculture. The majority of children are more than one, two, three generations removed from the farm or agricultural experience. We were at an event in Charlestown, South Carolina, a couple of years ago and a younger girl came up to us and was asking about the sheep being hurt. My husband’s looking at her and trying to figure out what in the world she’s talking about. She said, “The sheep when you take the cotton off of them.” She thought that cotton came from sheep. People laugh at that story and it is a source of humor for us too, but it’s sad because that’s just one example of misinformation. You can see how that happens in our culture. Less than 2% of the population are farmers and yet we feed and provide fuel and fiber for the entire world. In America our food source, our food systems, are the more efficient and safe and affordable as opposed to anywhere else in the world. I think so many times people see farmers as either by pitchfork and horse and buggy or this other picture of like corporation farm that’s greedy or has some ill intent. The reality is that over 98% of farms are family farms. They’re these legacies that are passed down from generation to generation. Our farm is a third generation farm but we’re set up as a corporation.
We farm thousands of acres but yet we care about sustainability. I kind of laugh to myself when I hear that word because the agricultural community, in my opinion, is the poster child for sustainability. We’ve been farming the same land in our family for generations and so our heart more than anything is for it to continue to our grandchildren and great grandchildren. We’re going to steward the resources as best we can. We want to take care of the land and water because we want it to be available for our kids when they want to pick up where we leave off.
People also, too, don’t realize that farming is a business so we are also going to do things that are cost effective. So when you think about like chemical applications or things like that and people ask questions about that, we always want to be transparent about what we do because everything you do is tested and regulated heavily. We have to be certified in different things. There’s so much oversight in it. But you know on the other hand, we’re not going to go willy-nilly applying this or doing that just because we can because it’s not profitable if we do. It’s more profitable for us to put less trips through a field for any number of crops. Our family, my kids play in those fields. My kids ride on the tractor with their dad and so we feed our kids that food and those by products. We want it safe and we want it affordable and we want it efficient. We grow more now than we ever have in the history of our country with less land, less resources, and less labor than we ever have. When you’re talking about sustainability, I think agriculture is certainly a picture for that.
Tracy: To say all that, there’s a lot of policy that affects that. You mentioned earlier taxation is a big one. The estate tax is huge when you talk about leaving a legacy for generations. The way farms are structured, they’re so much different than your traditional kind of businesses that you would think of when you’ve got such—everything’s skewed toward such non-liquid assets when it comes to land and buildings and all of these things. Being able to pass those down—there’s just heart breaking stories of estate taxes and capital gains taxes that put farms out of business because the families can’t afford to pay the taxes at the death of a family member. Those things are huge for us. Trade is obviously a big thing. Exports for us as agriculture, as farmers, are huge because we produce more than our country needs, thankfully. Any changes in trade and that kind of thing, affects us big time. Another policy and issues that really affect us—there are really so many.
Linda: The list is endless when it comes to government policies, regulations, taxes. The list is endless.
Tracy: One that really stands out for us in relation to Covered in Cotton as well, is rural
infrastructure. As I mentioned, a lot of the businesses that we do business with are in these rural towns. Bolstering those rural economies and the infrastructure of those areas is huge for us whether it’s roads that we’re transporting our goods on, or the railways or even housing options for our workforce. We had an intern come and work with us from Clemson University two summers ago and one of the factors that almost didn’t allow that to happen was the ability for us to provide housing for him. We got all that worked out, but it’s things like that—essential things—that aren’t necessarily available in rural areas.
One that we’re experiencing right now is internet service. We’re completing construction on a new warehouse, fulfillment center, and offices for Covered in Cotton and it’s out at our farm. We don’t have reliable internet options there. That’s critical for us running our business and also in addition to running our farm because in order to be efficient and everything, we water technology much more than people realize. We can turn the irrigation system on and off through our phone or an Ipad, so internet is huge. I got a quote to get internet lines to our building at $68,000. That’s a huge investment for us to be able to have something that’s as necessary as internet service for our business. We are very attuned to what’s going on in a lot of those rural policy and rural development infrastructure-type things because they affect us on the farm side but then obviously on the Covered in Cotton side as well.
Linda: Absolutely. You mentioned building up that local economy. It’s these private
businesses, these small family farms, these small businesses, that is what provides the money to build the roads and to provide for greater services for these residents. People often get that backwards. They think that government should pay for it but they don’t realize that in these rural communities you have to have successful businesses that pay the taxes that help provide for these services and the infrastructure needed. It’s great that you are helping to build that in your area. It has been heartbreaking to hear. I’ve lived in rural communities. Century farms that were lost. They couldn’t keep them in the family because of the estate taxes. It’s just heart breaking to see what happens to this legacy and these businesses. People don’t think about farming or agriculture as a business but I know that—I’m involved in another business that has to deal with agriculture and I will tell you that that gentleman is one of the smartest businessmen I know. He and his wife actually they are absolutely attuned to what’s happening to the market, they are in tune to all the technology. They are smart with their money. How to manage their capital investments and build infrastructure for their company and I honestly think that every business owner should look at a successful farmer or farm family and say, “What are they doing right and what can I learn?” The one thing about the agricultural industry, too, is that it is so unpredictable. Not that every businesses isn’t, but you are at the mercy of the weather often and there is so much outside of your control. And how do you even plan for that? How do you plan for these devastating droughts or times of too much rain or just these weather irregularities that cause challenges for your growing season?
Tracy: That is, especially in the last few years, has been the biggest challenge to us on our farm. Back in 2015 we had a 1,000 year flood where we didn’t harvest a single acre of cotton. We grow corn, soy beans, peanuts, and we also have beef cattle as well. That was devastating. And in the years after that we’ve had such an active hurricane season in our area that we’ve seen lost of crops or were not being able to harvest. It’s been tough. The weather has been one of our biggest challenges. Even last year we had two years worth of rain in one year in our area. We’re still getting so much rain. I’ve never seen so much rain in my life (Laughing) and we can’t get into the fields to do what we need to do. That’s where a lot technology plays such a huge part where we’re able to be as productive as we can in what we’ve been given. So when you talk about seed technology and that type of thing where we’re able to have shorter growing seasons on certain varieties of crops whatever it may so we can hopefully have them harvested before hurricane season and using as best we can of what we know about how to create the best environment for a crop to grow. We just have to do that and have the faith that we’re going to be able to do it every year.
Some years are great and some years are not and just like you said we have to be great business people and great stewards of the good years so that we are able to continue doing what we love and what we feel called to do in the years that aren’t great. It’s all about managing risk. So much of what we do is managing risk on a farm. So crop insurance is an investment but it allows us to continue to farm the next year in a lot of cases when we have these devastating weather events.
At the community of agricultural, too, is a huge factor and I feel like because, “Hey, we can’t get into a field or we can’t do this.” But this person has a piece of equipment that can or whatever it is you really see the heart and the real American spirit and love for neighbor. I think in these communities and with farmers because we realize so much that we can’t do it on our own, we need the help of those around us. So often other farmers are the only people who can understand what you’re going through.
Linda: I’ve often said that a small town is like a large family and when you’re in these rural communities people ban together in a really unique and special way. I think those in the agricultural community understand as well because there is so much unpredictable or there is so much that is unpredictable that you cannot plan for. Then there are other things like what you had with your family. There are illnesses, tragedies in the family, farm accidents, illnesses, deaths, horrible losses of family members and community members so you have to bond together and make this something like “all for one and one for all,” in a sense, regardless of what your crops are.
I love it that you have such a varied crop assortment. People often think that farmers just raise one thing. They see a corn field, “Oh that farmer just raises corn.” Well it might be that that farmer might be a dairy farmer and the corn is to actually feed their dairy cows. You have all these different crops plus you raise beef. So tell us a little more about your other crops and then when you’re done with that, I’d like you to talk a little bit about competition from other countries and how it helps you. You mentioned trade a little bit. But there’s so much now in the news and everything about trade deals and things but this impacts our family farms and our consumers and the price consumers pay for goods and everything but also I believe it’s a matter of national security to have our food supply, our supply for our textiles, everything made in America so that we can sustain ourselves here in our own country, not be dependent on foreign nations. I’d like you to just address that a little bit as you talk about these other crops. Just tell us your story on that.
Tracy: Yes. As I mentioned, managing risk is a big deal for farms. A varied crop portfolio allows us to be able to do that and allows us to steward the land well. We rotate our crops so that we’re not leaching all of the nutrient out of the soil. We rotate it with crops that put those nutrients back in it.
Linda: For those who are listening who maybe have no idea about what it means to rotate crops, I know even as an amateur gardener, I learned about rotating crops and not planting the same thing in the same soil or the same spot year after year after year because it takes all the nutrients out and doesn’t give it back. So if you can explain a little bit about that. You rotate—so one year you might plant corn in a field and the next year you might plant soy beans. I’m not sure what the proper rotation is, but because it changes what the plant takes out of the soil so it produces a healthy soil. It’s a great way to steward the land and keep the environment steady for production.
Tracy: Exactly. It allows us to guard against different pests as well. Peanuts, for example, we are careful what we put in the rotation, what we plant the next year and the next year after peanuts, because we want to make sure that like nematodes—they are a problem for peanuts—so we’re not putting something that would be susceptible to that in there next year. We’re kind of outsmarting the pests in a way and that’s a lot of what we do is outsmarting pests, whether it’s weeds or bugs or whatever it may be. So as little as we can do to, like I said, run a tractor over the field, the better.
So we want to plan. I say that this time of year right now when we’re planning what we’re going to plant is some of the most important work that we do because we’re looking at what is this soil type best suited for and we’ll plant accordingly whatever that may be. This lands real sandy so this crop doesn’t do well here. We do precision soil sampling where basically soil samples are taken from different areas of the field. This one’s light in this nutrient and we need to make adjustments here instead of just doing a broad—we’re just going to put this over the whole field. We want to make sure that it’s targeted so we’re getting the most use and efficiency out of everything. Rotating those crops allows us to keep the soil strong and full of nutrients. It’s said that we’re not responsible for making anything grow; we’re just responsible for making a great environment for it to do that. So that’s really all that we’re doing as farmers. We do have some irrigation on some of our fields so maybe we need to irrigate this bit of crop this year and so we plant accordingly in that as well.
So we grow cotton, corn, soy beans, and peanuts. And we’re actually going to start growing some cucumbers this year as well. That just allows us to not have all of our eggs in one basket. They have different growing seasons. That allows us to keep work year round for our employees and also to keep where we’re not having to do everything at one time. We’ll plant corn first and go through that and harvest the corn in the summer and then we’ll plant peanuts and cotton and those growing seasons allow us to manage those and harvest them in the fall. Soy beans are a little bit later so we’re able to grow something fairly year round. We’ll even plant wheat and rye in the winter months dependent on the markets.
You mentioned uncertainty—the commodity markets are a big part of that. It’s got to be profitable for us to grow because the input costs have done nothing but continue to rise—gas prices, oil—all of those things that affect our input costs. And then when you talk about raising minimum wage and that kind of thing, all of those things factor in into our input costs so it’s got to be profitable to put in. My husband is the one who does the numbers and he’s always the one who says if it doesn’t make a dollar on the paper it’s not going to make a dollar in real life.
Linda: You’ve brought up some good policies. You’ve brought up energy policies. If energy costs go up, if reliable energy is not available, that impacts you. You talked about minimum wage. How many employees do you typically have between the farm and Covered in Cotton? I’m sure some might be seasonal but just an estimate?
Tracy: We’ve got about ten employees between them and some of them will be seasonal truck drivers, that kind of thing.
Linda: Well, that’s ten families represented and that’s ten families that give back to their communities, and their areas where they live. These policies are really important. Let’s go back a little bit to trade. We touched on it a little bit. I want to make sure we go back to that. Trade policies are so important for our farmers here in America whether it’s exports or the competition of imports coming in. What happens when we get these things from other countries? Tell us a little bit on how you combat that.
Tracy: Yeah. That’s tough and that is difficult because it can be affected by so many things. Whether that’s consumer driven or whether it’s policy driven as to what those look like. So like I said as an American farmer, we produce the safest, most abundant, cost effective food source in the world. So as I mentioned, too, we are heavily regulated. That comes with the promise that the food you buy at the grocery store from American farms is safe. It’s known exactly how those animals were treated. Now obviously there are bad apples in every industry, but overarching where that food comes from and how it was produced and how it got there. And even when you talk about the transportation costs and the energy and the effect on the environment from transporting these crops from an entirely different country across the ocean here and we come into freshness and all of those things. Those are all factors.
So as American farmers, we want a level playing field. We want to be able to have a market for our crops. We want to be able to grow a great product and we want to have a market to get a fair price for it. Trade and imports don’t always add up to that [unintelligible (42:29)]. We want to see farmers be compensated for their work, for all the hard work that they put into it. We want to see trade reflect that and be able to get a fair price for the product that we produce. Even when you go to the grocery store you may see something like the labeling is a big issue there. We want things to be science-based. We want them to be truth-based and transparent. You may see things that say like non-GMO this. Whether it’s, we’ll say, orange juice. Well, there’s no such thing as a GMO orange. So truth in labeling is a big deal and how that affects consumer perception of crops and things that are grown. There’re just so many things that play into that whole arena of what it looks like.
Linda: Now that’s really great that you brought that up, even the labeling. We’ve been talking about energy policy. We’ve talked about tax policy. We’ve talked about minimum wage policy. We have talked about insurance, the environment, now truth in labeling. This is amazing because I think people just need to stop and think about how every policy makes a difference. I always say ideas have consequences; elections have consequences.
So if you were going to ask people in this audience to watch out for family farms across this country, what would you have them advocate for the most?
Linda: If they are going to talk their elected officials at the local, state, or national level, what would you tell them would be most helpful to support family farms in America?
Tracy: As simple as it may seem, I would say common sense. (Laughs) [Crosstalk]
Linda: (Laughing) It seems to be missing lately.
Tracy: I know it’s a relative term but because farmers have a really unique spot, I think it’s harder for the average consumer to think in the way like, “Oh, this would be harmful to a farm or a farmer.” What I would suggest is to seek out a local farmer in your area and get to know them and ask them questions about what affects them. Things that help small business are most likely going to help a farm. The average person is not probably thinking a lot about state taxes and how that would affect a farm. It’s really—I guess the best advice I would have is to find somebody who is a farmer and get to know them and see what would affect them and that helps you to kind of think through that lens of what would be common sense for them. (Laughs)
Linda: That’s great. Well and by doing so and helping to support these farms, whether they’re family or non-family farms here in America, but supporting farms that produce and want to distribute here in America, we’re also supporting safe handling for our food, everything. Like you mentioned, it’s a protection for consumers. So when we get things from other countries, we don’t know—whether it’s our energy that may be produced in dirty coal plants or whether it’s our food where we don’t know what they fed those animals, if it’s our beef or our vegetables. What did they put on those vegetables when they bring them in from other countries? Here in America we have strict standards that protect the consumer and protect the health and safety of American citizens. Supporting Made in America products is a benefit to both the consumer and the farmer and really to our nation as a whole for our national economy, but also for our national security.
Linda: Yeah. Absolutely.
Tracy: I like to say this, “What’s one of the differentiating factors between a third world country and our country? The ability to feed and take care of yourself and provide the essentials.” If we’re not able to do this as farmers, than you are exactly right, it is a national security issue. When we’re dependent on these systems outside of what we have oversight over, than it really puts us at risk when we’re not able to provide the most basic needs when it comes to food, and to fuel, and to fiber. So you’re exactly right. We see the same as a national security issue, for sure.
Linda: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well our time is sort of coming to a close, but before we do, I really want to touch a little bit more on the personal side regarding what you and your husband went through and your family went through when your son was ill. You’ve talked about how your faith sustained you. If there’s a family listening or someone listening today that’s going through a really hard time, maybe, you know, we’ve got Covid. People are suffering through that or even the state of the nation during this pandemic. What would you say to those who might be struggling with a health challenge or maybe the loss of a loved one?
Tracy: One of the biggest lessons that we learned during that time with our son was who was actually in control. When we knew that prior, but in times of suffering, those things are refined and they’re really put to the test. As a mom in that situation, I learned very quickly that I had no control over any of what was going on with my son at that time. I couldn’t make it better and so I got to the end of myself, which is a gift, and got to the point where I had to look to God and say, “God, I can’t do this on my own.” And I think that is one of the most important places to be when you realize more of who God is and who He says you are. That’s a lesson that He continues to grow and challenge me with.
I think that’s such a freeing thing of I don’t hold control over these things. I have a God who is loving and merciful and full of grace and all-powerful and He knows everything. I can only see a small piece of the picture and He sees everything. When His Word says that, “He works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose,” and so His Word provides me strength and courage to be able to look at the unknown and know more about who He is. In times where things don’t seem to be going right, or you don’t feel like you know what to do, or things are just seemingly so chaotic and out of control, God is there saying, “Get to the end of yourself and come to me and I’ve got peace for you.”
We experienced so much peace even in the chaos of what happened to our son, and that’s only because it came from him because the world and the circumstances will tell you otherwise. When God is so good in his love for us as his kids that he genuinely wants us to come to him and he wants to talk to us, he wants to speak to us. That dream I had for Covered in Cotton is not only specific to me, but he loves me with a complete and total love just like every other single other person who walks this earth a complete and total love. He wants to speak and he just wants us to slow down long enough hear him.
I know that was a lot but there’s just so much I could say. I think just realizing that you don’t have to hold it all together. You don’t have to be the one who’s in control or possess an illusion anyway. There’s a God who wants to show you what it is like to live in freedom and have peace regardless of whatever you’re going through, regardless of what stands before you or how you feel. He’s got absolute truth. He’s got freedom and he’s got, oh, a life of fullness waiting for you. It’s just a matter of coming to him to get it.
Linda: Absolutely. That’s a beautiful testimony and I agree. The Lord is good and he watches over those who seek him. It’s interesting because sometimes stories don’t end as well as yours where the child gets well or the person lives through the horrible illness. I have some dear friends who just lost a son and but even in that they were constantly focused on God and his time for that child’s life. I’ve often told people, we don’t really have any control over our first breath or our last breath, really. In reality. If you think about all of these things, even people who try to end their life, and sometimes can’t. We don’t have control over that. So realizing that God is there but also for those of us who our parents. I know for me as my children grew and especially as one was deployed overseas, I had to just cling to the fact that God loves my children more than I do. He cares about them even more than I do, which was hard for me to grasp because I felt like who could love my kids more than me. But it’s so true. When you think about taking it back a little more to your business and the instability of weather, you are really at the mercy of the weather, the seasons, things so out of your control. Learning to have peace for what is out of our control, whether it’s our children, whether it’s our health, whether it’s the weather for your farm fields, or whatever. But having peace for what is out of our control and doing what we can with what is within our realm of control, that truly brings a balanced life and more peace.
I thank you for your testimony on that and your boldness to speak of your faith and also to live out your faith in your business and to really try to give back to your community and to other hurting families through your Cotton with a Cause mission and giving these wonderful throws to families at the children’s hospital.
So if people want to reach out to you, how would they do so?
Tracy: They can find our contact information on our website: coveredincotton.com. My email address is email@example.com and we always love for people to reach out and start conversations.
Linda: Well, that’s great. I hope that our listeners will do so. They may be able to see you if they attend the Made in America conference, the Made in America tradeshow, October 1-3, planning to be in Louisville, Kentucky. I know you’re starting to make plans about possibly being there as an exhibitor. So if you’d like to meet Tracy and her family in person and see some of her products in person, please plan to attend the Made in America show October 1-3 in Louisville, Kentucky. Apart from that, please support businesses who support America by desiring and working to produce their products here in our beloved country.
Thank you, Tracy. Thank you to your whole family. We wish you every blessing and good things.
Tracy: Thank you very much.