Author

Paul Montgomery

Paul Montgomery has 2 articles published.

And Sew it Begins…

It was the fall of 1976, about a month before cotton harvest would gear up. Doug Hlavaty and a group of friends head to the Cow Palace, a local hangout in Lubbock, Texas. It was a typical night with friends until Valerie Jones, a slender brown-eyed girl with a style all her own, walked into the bar. Neither Doug nor Valerie went to the bar with the intent of finding their life partner, but at that moment their lives were changed forever.

For years, 18-year-old men were required to sign up for the United States Draft, until changing to the Selective Service System we follow today. In 1976, after completing his physical, Doug was issued his draft number, 13. However, fate had another plan for him – two months after signing up, the draft was dissolved. From there, an unlikely partnership bloomed between a city girl with a flair for fashion and a Texas farm boy and flourished for the next 40 years.

A Long-Standing Farming History

Cotton farming is a Hlavaty family tradition. They have been cultivating the red soil of West Texas and for almost a century, and through Homestead Cotton Co. Doug and Valerie plan to honor this legacy for years to come.

“My family moved here in 1920 when my dad was six-weeks-old,” Doug said. “We’ve been farming in West Texas ever since.”

Doug said his farming career started at age 10, picking cotton and pulling weeds in his father’s fields, but once receiving his driver’s license, he was upgraded to the duty of operating farm equipment. Since its establishment in West Texas, the Hlavaty farm has grown to over 5,000 acres between Doug and his brothers, who are partners in the operation.

Farmers face much adversity when producing a crop or raising livestock. The Hlavatys are no exception. However, through the years, the Hlavatys say their strong family ties kept them going.

Married to the Job

The farming boom of the 1970s, caused a bust in the market in the 1980s, making it difficult for the American farmer to turn a profit. Luckily, behind every good farmer is an even better spouse. The partnership of Doug and Valerie, through the commitment of marriage, helped the Hlavatys prosper through the tough years. In marriage, specifically between farmers, there are shifting roles such as finding ways to supplement income to help provide for the family.

“I didn’t ever plan on being a high school teacher, but I did it for 10 years,” Valerie said. “It was really good as a supplemental source of income.”

A farmer’s spouse plays a vital role in the operation both at home and on the farm. Valerie did what was best for her family and their livelihood, and through that, she is now finding a way to use her passion for apparel and love for the farm together.

For years, Valerie was a high school teacher who also juggled the duties of a farmer’s wife and mother to three children. Today, Valerie still carries these roles, but now her focus has shifted and so has Doug’s.

“I’m doing this to support her,” Doug said. “That’s just what we do for each other.”

Field-to-Fashion

Farming is a risky business and Valerie and Doug have supported each other through it all. Previously, the farming operation has been the priority, but now the Hlavatys are bringing local products from the field to fashion through their startup business, Homestead Cotton Co.

In 2016, the Hlavatys took a leap of faith and created their small business. Startups can be a risky investment, but a smart businessman knows when benefits outweigh the risks and will buy-in.

“Hold your nose and jump,” Valerie said. “That’s the way it works.”

The Hlavaty family isn’t alone in the realm of small business, which makes up 62 percent of businesses in the United States. However, they are meeting a need for locally-grown products in an area driven by cotton production.

The market for locally-grown food continues to increase, but the Hlavatys noticed the trend had not carried over into the clothing industry. As they visited local shops, they found it difficult to find products made from 100 percent cotton. Thus, the desire to establish Homestead Cotton Co. was solidified. Their company was not only built on the value of American-made products, but also to bring the consumer a high-quality cotton product.

We need more cotton products.

Creating these products is no small feat. To complete a full run of shirts, you must have 150 shirts per size from small to large, making a total of 450 shirts. An entire bale of cotton is required to complete the order of 450 shirts, each weighing roughly a pound.

Homestead Cotton Co. has already partnered with Monsanto with an order of branded polo shirts for their employees to showcase the quality cotton grown in the West Texas area. The goal of their business is to continue working toward providing Homestead’s products on a larger scale. Until then, the Hlavatys are actively working behind the scenes to design cotton towels along with a line of men’s and women’s clothing.

“So that’s what we are trying to do,” Valerie said. “Provide people with a high-quality cotton shirt, and we are having fun doing it.”

The Hlavatys say consumer participation is highly encouraged by Homestead Cotton Co. Consumers have a first-hand role in product development, by offering input on their website: homesteadcottonco.com/ourproducts/.

The Final Thread

Agriculture, more specifically cotton, has always been important to the Hlavatys. Today, both Doug and Valerie are using their passion for agriculture and apparel in an unconventional way through Homestead Cotton Co.

There are many moving parts to running Homestead Cotton Co., such as product development, manufacturing, and many other outreach efforts to develop the Homestead Cotton Co. brand. Valerie and Doug started this project on top of all their other responsibilities, but they see it more like play rather than work.

“Now, between running the farm and teaching classes, I’m doing this in the midst of all that,” Valerie said. “But it’s fine, I love it.”

Providing people with locally-sourced cotton products is a secondary theme in the story of the Hlavatys. This is a story of how a boy met a girl in a bar, and the rest is history.

The True Role of Migrant Workers

Growing up on a cotton farm in the Texas Panhandle, my family directly benefits from the work of migrant farm workers. We rely on the support of farm workers year-round from plant to harvest, and with much uncertainty in immigration reform, my family has a lot to lose.

In my youth, I didn’t recognize the need of migrant workers and the role they play in the agricultural industry. My father has always said people here aren’t willing to do the work, and as a student studying agricultural communications, I’ve found this to be true.

Immigration is always a hot-button issue in politics, but today, immigration reform seems to be even more prevalent. Why is this? Aren’t migrant workers providing a service to the farmer, therefore the industry? Many farmers would cease their operation if there were no migrant laborers filling jobs during busy seasons. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor certified 165,741 H-2A jobs in 2016. Click here for the FY 2016 annual report.

Let’s take a look at what migrant workers truly mean for the American farmer.

Montgomery_farmworker
Workers pick strawberries on a farm in California.  Source: John Henry Gremmer

“Migrant workers only benefit their home countries.”
False

Yes, a driving force of migrant workers in the United States is to send their earnings back to their families at home, but they also serve a purpose here. Migrant workers become active members of their communities, spending their income on housing, transportation, food, entertainment and more. Although it is common for them to send some support to family abroad, migrant workers help stimulate the American economy.

“Migrant workers are all criminals.” ­
False

Contrary to popular belief, immigrants represent 5 percent of all U.S. inmates and half of those were in the states illegally (The New York Times, 2017). The United States government is concerned with the vetting of immigrants and migrant workers. In an attempt to streamline these efforts, they have even created an e-Verify system, an internet-based system that verifies employees’ documents against millions of records to ensure their status in the U.S.

“Migrant workers are all here illegally.”
False

Actually, the majority of migrant workers are in the states through government programs, such as the H-2A visa program which provides foreign workers a temporary status to perform agricultural jobs (Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State).

Montgomery_table
Since 2008, the number of issued H-2A visas have almost doubled from 64,000 to 134,000. Source: Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State

“Migrant workers steal jobs from the local population.”
False

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, farmers requesting temporary workers must demonstrate there are not enough U.S. workers who are willing, able, and available to do the specified work. Many migrant workers are needed to harvest specialty crops, such as strawberry and citrus, where the need for migrant labor is substantial.

Migrant workers use their skills to provide a service to the country, specifically to the agricultural industry. Migrant workers assist during busy farming seasons to help provide a gateway for Americans to pursue careers in other areas. Coincidentally, the U.S. unemployment rate was at an all-time low in February of this year, a decrease of 22,000 from the month before (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

“Migrant workers are an integral part of U.S. food security.”
True

Today, farmers recognize native workers are not willing to do the work at the same salaries of migrant workers. Therefore, without migrant workers, the cost of labor increases, causing a direct correlation in the price at the checkout line (and you thought extra guacamole was already expensive!). In the September 2014 Census Bureau report on income and poverty in the U.S., the median household income across all jobs in America was $51,939—the average total individual income of farm workers is $15,000-$17,499.

Why should we care?

With the Trump administration’s plans to provide solutions to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and a complete overhaul of border security, the urgency to highlight the need of migrant agricultural workers is at an all-time high. There is a need for migrant workers to continue their work in the United States.

Take away your thoughts of the fiscal and social benefits these workers bring to our country. Think of how it affects you as an individual. For me, my father wouldn’t be able to continue in his agricultural pursuits. For you, it may be the cost to feed your family. Ultimately, we need these workers—our labor system relies upon that service. Consider all these things in the discussion of immigration reform. Something has to change.

Want to learn more about migrant workers and immigration? Click below to be taken to sources with lots of helpful information.

Go to Top