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Not so Mainstream, Mainstream Boutique

Empower. Strengthen. Celebrate. These are the powerful words that drew in Kate and her husband, as they began on a new uncharted journey.

Kate Mitchell, a Texas Tech alum, graduated with a bachelor’s in agriculture communications and a master’s in retail & hospitality institutional management. Kate and her husband Michael have two beautiful daughters: 3-year-old Blakely Grace and 12-month-old Elise Faith.

“We just did what we had to do.”

Kate Mitchell

With Michael living in Lubbock almost all of his life, and Kate returning to Lubbock to attend Texas Tech, making the decision to open a business in hub city was an obvious one for these Lubbock locals.

Operating West Texas Lace, LLC, dba Mainstream Boutique, as a locally-owned franchise has allowed the Mitchells to run their business how they see fit while still operating under a proven business model and earning multiple high rankings. Mainstream Boutique is ranked #86 nationally and is #7 in Texas.

The same month the Mitchell’s decided to dive into the entrepreneur experience and had signed all the papers, Kate found out she was pregnant with her second daughter Elise. Although it was an exciting surprise, it created another challenging obstacle to get their business up and off the ground. Kate and her mother Carolyn took on the journey of traveling to Minneapolis, Minnesota, for training when Elise was just 3 months old. The trio spent a week there while Kate attended training seminars during the day, pumped on lunch and coffee breaks, then returned to the hotel at night to join her mother and newborn. It was a lot but having the support of her mother made the educational trip doable and an experience they’ll all remember for a lifetime.

Blakely loves the store as much as her momma.

“By the time Elise was 4 months old she had already flown across the country on 6 different flights. I’ve never felt more angry stares while boarding planes but overall people were nice and accommodating to us. We just did what we had to do,” Kate explained.

Once training was complete, it was time to start the storefront renovations back in Lubbock. Being that Mainstream offers a business model as opposed to a traditional cookie-cutter franchise, Michael and Kate were able to make many of the design choices themselves. Part of that customization process included finding a dream team. Kate chose to post the positions of part-time stylists on Indeed.com, then sorted through the applications, and started hosting interviews. Being that Elise was still too young to join big sister Blakely in their daycare academy, Kate often had to interview the applicants with a baby on her hip. It even turned out that three of the four girls she selected were also pursuing a degree in agriculture communications at Texas Tech University.

The next step in the process was to place orders on materials. Clothing, office supplies, interior/exterior signage, furniture, mannequins, technology equipment, etc. were all part of the supplies list that needed to be paid for and shipped. Once the dozens of boxes began to arrive at the store, then came the endless task of unboxing, steaming, hanging, sizing and tagging. The girls all quickly learned that when matching tags to the clothes, it is best to open the boxes one at a time as opposed to all at once.

“It’s a learning process for all of us!” Kate said.

Attention to detail is very important in the retail business and Kate is hard at work everyday assembling the perfect outfit.

The first couple of days Mainstream was open there was extreme icy weather which had reduced the store’s foot traffic dramatically. After the boutique had quite literally weathered the storm, the number of customers coming into the doors increased phenomenally. Much of that pedestrian success is due to the location in the Hub Shopping Center. The outdoor shopping strip is in a retail center that shares co-tenancy with other like-minded businesses, such as Odds & Ends, Hot Worx, CycleBar, Kadiza Hair Salon, The Lash Lounge, Tea2Go and many more.

In addition to Mainstream’s idyllic location, another essential business resource is the shop’s online presence. The Mainstream’s social media has rapidly grown bigger and bigger since the day that it was created. Setting a goal to reach 1,000 Facebook followers by their first year open, the Lubbock location was able to reach that goal within their first 2 months. In a world where online shopping is extremely popular, a big following and professional online presence is very important. There is a direct link in social media to how a business is able to promote and brings in potential customers.

During this time of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, the online presence has forcibly shifted to Mainstream’s only source of profit. Being that this hit before the shop had been open less than 7 weeks, it was clearly not what Kate and her team had in mind for the store. Michael and Kate are hopeful and positive that business will resume as normal and even possibly boom after this mandated time of closure passes.

Between a new baby, freezing temperatures, and an unforeseeable medical state of emergency, there have been many bumps in the road, to say the least. Kate is a very strong woman who is pursuing her dream. Despite the hard times and difficult situations, the Mitchell family has decided to once again pull-up their bootstraps and muster through the storm. Given their upbeat demeanor and support of the West Texas community, it is likely the business will survive and thrive in the upcoming months ahead.

Kate and her husband Michael, hopeful business will return to normal after this worldwide pandemic is over.

50 Years in the Making

Chancellor Tedd L. Mitchell, M.D. speaks to the media
Chancellor Tedd L. Mitchell, M.D. spoke to the media about the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board commissioner’s visit to the Texas Tech University System in March.

In true West Texas fashion, Texas Tech University and its surrounding communities came together, overcame tremendous obstacles, and, against all odds, finally got the veterinary school they had waited so long for.

In 1971, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board voted for Texas Tech University to open a veterinary school; a seemingly impossible task at the time, which then took half a century to accomplish.

Gaining Momentum

Dr. Tedd L. Mitchell, Texas Tech University System chancellor, said he had been president of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center for four years by the time opening a veterinary school became feasible for the System.

It was not until the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015 that the System really began to research and develop momentum for the vet school, Mitchell said. It was then that he and a team of leaders from across the System – including then-chancellor, Robert Duncan – began working on the vet school initiative.

“We actually went and visited the three geographically closest vet schools to Amarillo: Colorado State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State,” Mitchell said. “All three of them are closer to Amarillo than College Station.”

After researching the different models of veterinary education and visiting with surrounding schools, the System chose the newest option to the veterinary medical world: the distributive model.

“If you look at the vet schools that have begun in the last four years, it’s the preferred model, because it keeps your own overhead low, and it really doesn’t put you in competition,” Mitchell said. “In fact, quite the contrary, your local veterinarians become your faculty members, and they love it.”

Having prior experience using this teaching model at TTUHSC, the team was ready to move forward with the vet school initiative by advocating to the community, industry leaders, accrediting agencies and legislative officials, Mitchell said.

Part of this team of advocates was Guy Loneragan, BVSc, Ph.D., who is now dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. Loneragan said he believes the veterinary school could change the landscape of veterinary medical education by creating highly sought after, skillful graduates who are business-minded and have the desire to serve rural populations.

“To me,” Loneragan said, “it means the opportunity to help and contribute to building something that will provide access to high quality, affordable education, which will influence and impact students and rural Texas for generations to come.”

The Tipping Point

On Jan. 8, 2019, the 86th Texas Legislature began and set into motion the most historic legislative session for the Texas Tech University System since the institution’s formation in 1996.

Mitchell said municipalities from across West Texas put aside their differences and came together to sign a letter to governmental officials expressing their support for the veterinary school in Amarillo.

“I’d be willing to bet you that has never happened in the history of the legislature,” Mitchell said.

The Texas Legislature’s Conference Committee voted to include $17.35 million in the state’s budget to establish Texas Tech’s School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo on May 17.

Just one month later, on June 15, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the state budget into law, thus appropriating $17.35 million for the operational needs of the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Loneragan said he attributes Texas Tech’s success at the 86th Texas Legislature to the System’s great leadership and the overwhelming community support they received.

“For the vet school, it’s possible because all of those great leaders moved forward in a very unified approach to make this happen,” Loneragan said.

However, during this legislative session, the System was not only focused on the veterinary school, they were also advocating for the addition of a dental school at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso.

With the addition of a veterinary school and a dental school, the Texas Tech University System will become one of only nine institutions in the nation to have programs in undergraduate, medical, law, nursing, pharmacy, dental and veterinary education.

“The United States has over 3,000 universities, and there are nine that have the compliment that we have…” Mitchell said. “I think, then, from a System perspective, it puts you in an extraordinarily elite position, nationally.”

Three months after receiving the governor’s signature, on Sept. 19, the System broke ground in Amarillo to signify the start of construction on facilities for the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Guy Loneragan looks at the construction plan for the School of Veterinary Medicine with Project Manager Redha Gheraba
Dr. Guy Loneragan, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine, looks over the facility’s plan with the project manager, Redha Gheraba.

In a little over a month, the first of many hiring announcements was made on Oct. 30, when Dr. John Dascanio, a large-animal veterinarian, was hired to serve as senior associate dean for the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Then, on Dec. 11, three months after the groundbreaking, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the proposed Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degree, putting Texas Tech’s vet school on the home stretch.

Throughout this process, Mitchell said he and the System team tried to impress upon people all over the state how important this initiative was for everyone.

“It was not an issue about West Texas, it really was an issue that would impact the entire state.”

Chancellor Tedd L. Mitchell, M.D.

“We tried to make sure that people understood this was not an issue about Amarillo, it was not an issue about the panhandle, it was not an issue about West Texas, it really was an issue that would impact the entire state,” Mitchell said.

The most rewarding part of this journey for Mitchell was watching the different communities come together for something bigger than themselves, he said.

“At a time when politics have become extremely divisive, people still, at the end of the day, pulled together for something that was good for the state of Texas,” Mitchell said.

The Real Work Begins

On Jan. 22, 2020, the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents approved the final budget for the project. With this approval, the next step in the process can begin, Mitchell said.

“Moving forward, the ball is squarely in the court of Dr. Loneragan when it comes to the curriculum and the academics,” Mitchell said.

The School of Veterinary Medicine had hired a total of seven staff members as of March 3, 2020, Loneragan said, including Dr. Bethany Schilling, a mixed-animal veterinarian, as assistant professor in general veterinary practice, and Dr. Britt Conklin, a world-renowned horse veterinarian, as associate dean for clinical programs. By the end of March or early April he said he expected to have finished interviewing candidates for 11 more positions.

“We anticipate by the end of this calendar year we will have 15 to 20 faculty on board and getting ready to start delivering the curriculum,” Loneragan said.

While the hiring process continues, Loneragan said they will also be working with the American Veterinary Medical Association for the accreditation process. He said they will do a site visit of the program at the end of June and should hear the outcome around the end of September, early October.

If approved by the accreditors, Loneragan said they can then begin the admissions process by reviewing applications and inviting students to campus in October. Once they send out offer letters, he said, the next big step is to prepare for orientation and the beginning of classes in August of 2021.

A rendering of the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine.
The School of Veterinary Medicine headquarters will be located on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center campus in Amarillo. Photo courtesy of Texas Tech University.

Looking Ahead

Mitchell said he is looking forward to the day that the School of Veterinary Medicine opens its doors to its inaugural class.

“In August of 2021, we’re going to have 60 new students running around up in Amarillo with our pharmacy students, with our med students, with the nursing students, with the health profession students that we have up there,” Mitchell said excitedly, “and it’ll be a brand new day, and it’ll be a big celebration for everybody when that happens.”

A similar sentiment was expressed by Loneragan.

“I am most looking forward to the first class of students – seeing them and getting to interact with them – and seeing the faculty start to teach the students,” Loneragan said.

But the chancellor and the dean are not the only ones excited for that historic first day of school. Conner Chambers of Henrietta, Texas, is the lone Red Raider in a family of Aggies. He is a junior animal science pre-vet major at Texas Tech, and said he cannot wait to apply to the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Conner Chambers stands outside of the animal science building.
Conner Chambers, a prospective School of Veterinary Medicine student, is the president of Texas Tech’s Pre-Vet Society, one of the largest student organizations in CASNR.

“I’m ready to apply,” Chambers said. “I’m ready to get there, and it means a lot to me that Texas Tech is supporting this so much for the dreams of students like myself.”

Chambers said having the opportunity to attend veterinary school in the epicenter of the beef cattle industry means his educational experience will be geared specifically toward his goal of becoming a large animal veterinarian.

“Being someone who wants to work on food animals in small town communities, it means a lot that Texas Tech is supporting that dream specifically,” Chambers said.

He said the possibility of being one of 60 students chosen to attend Texas Tech’s School of Veterinary Medicine is both exciting and nerve-wracking.

“It’s definitely exciting to be part of the first class to go through a new vet school because that’s something not very many people get to say,” Chambers said.

Mitchell said that once the first class of students arrive, there is just one more milestone left to reach. One that he said was the most important by far.

“I think the day that we have our first students graduate, that’ll be the day that you know all of the work, all of the efforts, all of the heartache, all of the long nights, all of the long days, that’s when you’ll know it was worth it — with that first set of graduates,” Mitchell said with a smile.

Filling Glasses With Texas Wine & Festivities

Llano 2019 Port
Named as Texas' largest premium winery, Llano Estacado continues to impress customers with palate-cleansing flavors and community kindness.

Lubbock, Texas, stands on high grounds with agriculture, the Red Raiders, mass dust storms, and the word ‘community.’ Some would call it southern hospitality; Lubbock residents call it family. As new visitors roam this small west Texas town, they will interact with possible glimpses of tailgates, good food, tourist hotspots, and at least one of Lubbock’s Texas wineries. Before May 2009, the city of Lubbock was considered a ‘dry’ city. This law demanded all city limits are restricted from buying or selling alcohol outside of restaurants or bars. Lubbock residents made their way to Slaton, Texas, to come upon a liquor store named ‘Pinkies’ and Texas’ largest premium winery, Llano Estacado.

Llano Estacado Winery

Llano Estacado Winery opened in 1976 with help from two Texas Tech University professors, Dr. Bob Reed and Dr. Doc McPherson. McPherson was a chemistry teacher and Reed taught horticulture. After some initial success conducting an experimental winery in the basement of the Texas Tech chemistry building, the two started a limited partnership and opened Llano Estacado.

Brave Texans didn’t die at the Battle of the Alamo to drink California wine.

Erin Baker, tasting room assistant manager at Llano Estacado, ensures the winery keeps its title as Texas’ largest premium winery.

“We compete in many international and U.S. competitions every year, and we do very well,” Baker excitedly said of Llano’s success. One wine, Viviano, is ranked as the winery’s most award-winning. “It has won many awards,” Baker said, “but recently at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo as Texas’ Best Wine.” Llano’s obvious success is making them a higher competitor for other wineries in Texas. Baker shares a quote that is well-known at the winery, “Brave Texans didn’t die at the Battle of the Alamo to drink California wine.” 

Leslie Sukin, tasting room manager at Llano Estacado, shares another customer favorite wine, the Chairman’s Reserve Port. 

“Our Chairman’s Reserve Port is another customer favorite,” Sukin said. “It’s neat to see how fast the bottles sell once the new vintage is released, which we only release this port every two years.” Llano Estacado’s Reserve port sells quickly due to the amount of years the wine ages before being blended. “The popularity of the wine,” Sukin said, “puts customers all over the country on a waitlist eager to buy the next available bottle.”

Not only does this Texas winery produce palate-fulfilling wine; Llano Estacado is also known for their large events venue and vineyard area. “We mostly host weddings, rehearsal dinners, graduation parties, or any other larger events maxing out at a 250 capacity,” Baker said. 

The Grape Day Festival

Llano Estacado hosts many festivals throughout the year.  This festival falls right after the completion of the winery’s harvest season. More than 3,000 guests from all over the U.S. arrive at the winery in the fall for the event.

Llano Estacado always has live music, different food trucks, and more than 25 vendors at Grape day. “Grape Day is always in October,” Baker said. “As a fun way to celebrate harvest season being finished.” 

These festivities, of course, would not be possible without the help from all the tasting room staff and the events team at Llano Estacado. Sukin focuses on maintaining a well-trained staff able to answer any questions related to viticulture or the wine-making process. “Having employees who are able to give tips of advice or recommendations for our wine comes in hands at busy times like Grape Day,” Sukin said. 

Not Just A Winery

Llano Estacado Winery carries on Texas traditions by pouring glasses and cheering for the Red Raiders as they are surrounded by acres of agriculture. Customers turn into friends and staff turns into family, spreading the community love and awareness all around.  As Lubbock continues to grow in size and having a winery maintaining the title as the ‘largest premium winery in Texas’, gives travelers a better reason to visit our west Texas city. 

Flying High: The Fat Tire Cowboys


irt and dried grass swirl in the air as a spring breeze rolls down the runway. The sun is slowly setting in a clear, blue West Texas sky. The low, steady drone of an engine can be heard, first faintly, then much louder. Over a grassy area running between a line of hangars and the Slaton Municipal Airport taxi way, a Cessna 185 Skywagon roars into view. The small, high wing aircraft boasting large tires first flies effortlessly down the makeshift landing strip, 10 feet off of the ground. It then circles back, lands, and comes to rest in the field.

As the airplane door opens, golden light reflects off of the clean, white door. A pair of brown, leather boots step out of the sparkling machine and onto the ground by the large, black tires affixed to the airplane. A group of men, wearing boots and some—cowboy hats, approach the airplane.

An unsuspecting passerby would say the happy banter echoing off of the metal hangars were originating from the group of cowboys standing around the airplane with big tires in a field. For the most part, they would be correct. But they are no ordinary cowboys; they are the Fat Tire Cowboys.

We are not traditional airplane people,” La Rosa stressed. “We love it. We just go out and do it; we live it.”

The Fat Tire Cowboys are a group of Texans, primarily raised on the Llano Estacado, who share a background in agriculture and passion for aviation. What began with a simple YouTube post has blossomed into an international brand under the leadership of Bryan Rosa, from Tahoka, Texas. Rosa is better known as “La Rosa” to the other cowboys and their 28,000 followers across social media applications.

After La Rosa was shown fellow Fat Tire Cowboy Chad Bartee’s new bush plane, he knew he had to have one. Later that year, he bought and modified the same type of aircraft by replacing the standard 8-inch tires with a 31-inch pair, allowing the airplane to land in plowed fields, rock-filled river beds, and virtually any non-pavement runway.

La Rosa said the pair of pilots then took a trip to the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. There, he created a video showing the airplanes flying over striking landscapes. After posting the video and receiving overwhelming positive feedback and views, he created the Fat Tire Cowboys along with a logo and shirt.

“We were doing all of this crazy stuff anyways,” La Rosa said. “Might as well go ahead and post it for other people to see, too.”

The Fat Tire Cowboys’ passion for flying goes beyond a hobby. Although all of the cowboys have careers outside of aviation, the group can regularly be found planning their next adventure in their hangars any given day. La Rosa said flying is more than a form of transportation to the cowboys. The cowboys fly because they love every part of the journey from the moment they pull their airplanes out of the hangar – to the moment their fat tires touchdown.

“Aviation: the essence of it brings richness to your life – it’s unexplainable to most people,” La Rosa said. “It’s the beauty of it all; you have to have knowledge, and you have to master all of these facets of science and the aircraft and how it behaves.”

The spirit of traditional cowboys lives within the Fat Tire Cowboys. The same drive and intensity that is needed to protect a herd of animals or bring a crop to yield can be applied to aviation. Many of the cowboys’ adventurous spirits and passion for aviation can be traced back to their agricultural roots.

A career pilot of 33 years, Scott Lane recalls working on his family’s farm and ranch near Dimmit, Texas. While driving farm equipment at 12 years old, he remembers watching the crop dusters fly by as he sat on a tractor all day.

“I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” Lane recalls as he points toward the sky. “So, I went and did it.”

For others, the journey to the sky was not as simple, but the benefit of having a past in agriculture is clear. 

We are not traditional airplane people.

Koby Reed, a fifth-generation cotton farmer from Seagraves, Texas, grew up watching his grandfather fly. He loved everything about the plane – the smell, the look – but he never made the time to learn. After he realized he was nearing the end of his 30s, he wasted no more time and got his license.

Learning to pilot the skies, Reed said, was easy after growing up on a farm. After years of working on farm equipment, he possessed a deep understanding of mechanical equipment that he has carried over into aviation. Most importantly, through farming, he learned to have a determined mindset.

“Growing up on a farm, you’ve got to be out there.” Reed said. “You’ve got to make it work at the end of the year, and somehow make the crop work. That was the drive instilled in me; you’ll never quit keep going.”

Time and technology have changed the landscape of the working cowboy, but the culture and foundation remain the same. As the Fat Tire Cowboys brand grows and their audience increases, they hold on to their roots and their cowboy attitude.

“Every flight is an education,” Lane said. “Aviation is something that you learn from every flight every day.”

The future for the cowboys looks bright, but no matter what, they are enjoying each day, one flight at a time.

“That’s the fun part about it,” La Rosa said. “We have no clue, but we are enjoying the ride.”

Beyond their shared love of aviation, the cowboys share a true sense of community.

After seven years of restoration on La Rosa’s late father’s Piper Cub, a particularly bad hail storm rolled into West Texas. The massive hail punched holes through the hangar’s skylights and into the carefully painted canvas that makes up the airplane’s wings.

Surrounded by shards of plastic skylight and fragments of the Piper Cub, La Rosa stood in his cold hangar. With years of painstaking work seemingly lost, it would be easy for him to walk away from the aircraft, but giving up was not an option.

Just as a cowboy shepherds his herd in all weather – the Fat Tire Cowboys rallied together to rebuild what had been lost. Before long, the hangar was again filled with the group’s usual banter as the cowboys swept up any evidence from the disaster and got back to work.

Today, the Piper Cub again flies through the sky.

Planting Seeds, Producing Images

Chapman is shown pursuing his ultimate two passions: farming and photography.

s dusk approached and the water remained still in the tank, he watched the bird swoop down to get a refreshing sip of water. The sun began to set and the common nighthawk flew away to satisfy his appetite.

Steven Chapman prepared his camera as the bird returned to the brim of the stock tank to get another drink of water. Besides the sound of the crickets and the brush being blown by the West Texas wind, you hear the sound of a camera shutter as a one-of-a-kind moment is captured.

A camera is this farmer’s tool of choice. The man behind the camera is a farmer by trade and a photographer by passion.

Chapman is shown pursuing his ultimate two passions: farming and photography.

Where it All Began

As a student in a 1A high school, Chapman grew up playing every sport. He also had a passion for photography. His dad bought him a camera as a Christmas present which came in handy when he broke his arm at the end of his junior year playing basketball in offseason workouts. Although he was no longer able to participate in sports, he was able to take pictures for the yearbook.

His senior year approached and Chapman said he always knew he wanted to be a Red Raider. He graduated from Texas Tech University in 1985 with a degree in mechanized agriculture with an emphasis in agricultural economics. He said this degree allowed him to see the business aspect of agriculture and farming.

After college, Chapman ventured away from his roots and pursued a career in the hotel business. Almost ten years later, Chapman found his way back to Texas and began farming again.

 “From the time when I started farming on my own, which was about 1994, farming was my whole life,” Chapman said.

Cotton Connections

Chapman, a fifth generation farmer and a fourth generation West Texas farmer runs his operation in his hometown of Lorenzo, Texas. His farming career has allowed him a connection with the Lorenzo Cooperative Gin Manager, Bill Shields.

Shields is a Texas Tech graduate with an agronomy degree. He has held the manager position for the last 14 years. Chapman was on the board of directors that hired Shields and since then they have had a long-standing close relationship.

“If there’s an avenue in a conversation that allows for him to refer to a picture that he has taken, he’s probably carrying around his iPad around and will show you,” Shields said. “He likes to show you what he’s done. He’s proud of it and he should be. I’m proud for him.”

From being around him for the last 14 years, Shields said Chapman is very detail-oriented, analytical and takes a lot of pride in what he does, which is part of what makes him a well-respected farmer in the Lorenzo community.

In addition to their cotton connection, Chapman has done some projects for the co-op allowing Shields to get familiar with his photography. The projects have ranged from honoring customers to showcasing the West Texas cotton industry.

Besides completing jobs for the co-op, Chapman has done work for Citibank and said he wants the opportunity for more commercial photography jobs.

“Probably one of my biggest accomplishments is that Citibank bought seven of my pictures,” Chapman said with a smile on his face. “They’re all black and white, and they’re all landscapes. They wanted local art and it was such a neat deal to be able to do that and get my photos up in a situation like that.”

New Opportunities

As a self-taught photographer, he said his skills developed through trial and error. He said he was thankful to gain exposure from various styles of photography throughout his many years. A learning opportunity arose in 2015 when he was asked to shoot for Jarret Johnson, the publisher for Inside the Red Raiders. This opening allowed him to cover Texas Tech Athletics and revisit his childhood love for sports while progressing his photography.

“When you get someone like Steven Chapman who is so good at what he does, who captures the moment,” Johnson said excitedly, “that’s really what we’re talking about when it comes to the main objective of a photographer.”

Farmer, Photographer and Agriculture Advocate

Besides shooting sporting events, Chapman said he takes pride in using his passion to tell a story about agriculture in West Texas and to combat the negative misconceptions about farming.

“We hear about the negatives in agriculture every day,” Chapman said, “like how bad GMO crops are and how it’s not family farms, but it is out here. I’m out here trying to take care of the land the best I can, because if I’m not, the crops won’t produce, and I won’t make any money.”

Throughout the last couple of years, he said he has become quite the advocate and storyteller on his Facebook photography page, From Farm to Foto, Visions of a West Texas Farmer. His wife, Melinda, pushed him to start the page, but he said he never expected people to take interest in his photos. This page has become an outlet for him to showcase his work and document his adventures.

A Life-Saving Venture

Chapman has pursued photography off and on for the majority of his life, but he said his career in farming has always taken the front seat. He became really intent on farming, but after his dad died in 2009, he said the stress was almost too much. It was not until the stress in his life became overwhelming that he appreciated what photography did for him.

“I think having that hobby and that passion basically saved my life because of the amount of stress I was under,” Chapman said.

Chapman said having photography as an outlet allowed him to get the things in his life in focus. Besides thinking about the farm, he said there are only two things he has ever been able to do in the middle of a cotton field. The first is getting out of his tractor to take pictures of the wildlife or agriculture around him; and the other is praying.

“I’ve done it many a time,” Chapman said. “I get off the tractor, get on a knee and pray. But guess what? I can do both at the same time.”

He said doing those two activities simultaneously brings him comfort and clarity. He said his cotton fields are the perfect place for pictures because of the various creatures that call them home.

Chapman said he prefers photographing wildlife because of the uniqueness he can capture with every image. Chapman said he enjoys providing something new and different. He said the rewards seem higher because he invests more time trying to get those shots.

As he scrolled through some of his favorite images he recalled each story and retold them as if he had just taken the pictures. The story about the common nighthawk at the stock tank is one of his favorites. “I may not remember every piece of my life,” Chapman said, “but I can recollect the individual stories from every picture I have ever taken; I’m connected to them. I can only hope others connect with my pictures and stories, too.”

Chapman, a Texas Tech graduate and fifth generation farmer, utilizes photography to showcase agriculture in West Texas. Photo provided by Steven Chapman.

Diamond in the Rough

Lauren and Shelley Heinrich
Lauren Heinrich (Left) and Shelley Heinrich (Right) use every opportunity they have to advocate for agriculture. They use their event venue as a tool to share about West Texas agriculture.

helley and Lauren Heinrich never planned on owning and running a wedding venue, however when they found the Kitalou Gin everything fell into place.

Rediscovering Kitalou 

The Kitalou Gins last year of operation was 1974. From Kitalou’s last crop year the gin was used as a scrapyard. It was left for ruins until 2017 when it was found and restored by the Heinrich family. The Heinrich’s are cotton farmers from Slaton, Texas.

The Kitalou Gin was built in 1925 when communities ginned their own cotton. Located right outside of Idalou, Texas, Kitalou was placed adjacent to a railroad for convenient distribution of freshly ginned cotton. Due to the gins proximity to the railroad, it is said the gin was named after a railroader’s daughter.

In 2017, Shelley Heinrich had a pumpkin business which was booming, and she needed space to store her abundance of pumpkins. Her daughter, Lauren, suggested using an abandoned gin, because so many are scattered around small West Texas towns.

The mother-daughter duo started looking around at perspective properties when Shelley’s husband, Burt, proposed the Kitalou Gin, just minutes from downtown Lubbock.

“Up close, just driving by, it looked like a junk yard,” Shelley said.

The yard was full of old equipment and dead trees. In some places the gin was full to the ceiling with old deteriorating equipment. Despite the looks of the gin, the building was in great shape.

Shelley and Lauren decided to take on the project, spending every spare moment they had cleaning out the old gin.

“We’ve got the equipment and the gumption to do it,” Lauren said.

The Heinrich’s farm and have a lot of equipment, which allowed Shelley and Lauren to do a lot of the work themselves. As a family, the Heinrichs spent nine months cleaning and restoring the gin.

“We’re not only a good mother-daughter team, but good partners.”

Shelley and Lauren did not originally plan to turn the gin into a wedding venue, but the more they cleaned the more they realized the gin was meant to be so much more than a warehouse to store pumpkins.

“It was like overwhelming chaos, because there was so much that we could do,” Shelley said.

Throughout the process one vision remained – to maintain the integrity and authenticity of the gin.

Unexpected Wedding Planners

Lauren said before finding Kitalou, being a wedding coordinator never crossed her mind.

“We have the skill set,” Shelley said, “we just never had the facility.”

The two have backgrounds in event planning, but nothing quite like wedding planning.

Before owning and running the Kitalou Gin, Shelley had a career in the finance industry and retired in 2011. However, her retirement did not last long. In 2013 she went back to work, but this time for commodity organizations, spending a few years with National Sorghum Producers before moving on to her current position with the Cotton Board. Lauren worked for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association and then for a local congressman. In these roles, Shelley and Lauren gained skills in event coordination.

The Heinrichs runs every event themselves. From setting up to tearing down, they are there doing it all. On the day of an event, the family is there parking cars or helping with coordination. At the end of the night, they all get together to clean up the gin.

“When we started, our only goal was getting the bride down the aisle and after that we figured the rest out,” Lauren said.

The first wedding at Kitalou was for a family friend who asked to use the gin for her wedding. The definite timeline of this wedding helped motivate Shelley and Lauren to finish this project.

Even though the two cleaned on the gin for nine months, they were still picking up nails and pieces of metal out of the yard until the day of the first wedding.

A Unique Take on Agriculture 

Despite the disarray of the property, Shelley and Lauren decided to purchase the Kitalou Gin because of its unique location. Only minutes from downtown Lubbock, the location is convenient while still surrounded by farmland. Being surrounded by agriculture gives the Heinrichs a unique opportunity to share about West Texas agriculture.

Kitalou clients are drawn to the unique look and location of the gin.

“I grew up working in the feed yard riding the pens, working cattle, so growing up like that then going out to Kitalou and being surrounded by the farmland and cattle I just fell in love and felt at home”Bride Averye Ferris said.

Kitalou couples tend to come from agricultural backgrounds, however, their guests do not always share that likeness. Because the gin is surrounded by agriculture, with cattle and sheep across the road, lends to great conversations.

“If we’re not telling the story, then who is?” Shelley asked.

Shelley and Lauren have spent many hours at events educating guests on farming in West Texas. They will answer any questions guests have from genetically modified organisms use to water conservation.

As agriculture continues to progress, the Kitalou Gin will become more important to preserve. With the advances in agriculture small gins will become obsolete making Kitalou that much more important.

Mother Daughter Team

“We’re not only a good mother-daughter team, but good partners,” Shelley said.

They can each relate to their customers. Lauren was recently a bride and can understand their needs while Shelley understands the mothers and their perspective. Having their different perspectives helps with problem solving and creating the shared vision of the bride and her mom.

“We take the burden off the families backs and handle everything so they can sit back, relax and enjoy the day,” Lauren said.

Shelley and Lauren encourage their clients to be as creative as possible when dreaming up their big day.

“We’ve already been creative with restoring a gin, now it’s their turn,” said Lauren.

Reducing uncertainty on the Southern High Plains


arming practices on the Southern High Plains, and more specifically a farmer’s choice of whether or not to change them, are affected by irrigation methods and crop insurance.

Dr. Darren Hudson of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics is the graduate director and helps put together funding for research.

Dr. Hudson said, “We have students from all over doing research that impacts this area.”

Jorge Romero-Habeych is not your traditional student, he served in the Army and worked as an analyst in the natural gas industry before returning to school. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Central Florida. As a doctoral student in Agricultural and Applied Economics, Romero-Habeych’s research explores how farmers choose irrigation techniques.

Agriculture on the Southern High Plains was significantly impacted by the introduction of center pivot irrigation.

 “Prior to the center pivot in the 1990s, … irrigation was very inefficient,” Romero-Habeych said.

By adopting center pivots farmers were able to sustain yields while using less water.

In recent years farmers have had the option of adopting an even more efficient alternative, subsurface drip irrigation. Adopting efficient irrigation techniques along with the right kind of crop insurance is essential for farmers to reduce their exposure to risk.

“Why is it that we don’t see a wider implementation of this technology in the area?” Romero-Habeych asked. “My theory is that crop insurance in conjunction with already existing irrigation techniques might be making drip irrigation less attractive,” Romero-Habeych said. “On the margin, adopting drip is relatively expensive and the benefit in terms of risk reduction is likely not worth the cost.”

In terms of water use, wider adoption of drip irrigation by farmers on the Southern High Plains does not necessarily translate to less pressure on the Ogallala aquifer. Romero-Habeych made an interesting point on the issue.

“Past experience with the center pivot shows that its adoption led to more water use. Farmers actually started using more water than before because they started planting in fields that had previously not been economically attractive,” Romero-Habeych said.

Using the most efficient farming practices possible is vital for all farmer’s to continue production and not give up yields.

“Perhaps drip irrigation would be more widely adopted in the area if existing crop insurance choices were not made available. The combination of current insurance and irrigation options to reduce risk exposure might be crowding out drip,” Romero-Habeych said. “However, that might be a good outcome for the aquifer.”

How farmers on the Southern High Plains are affected by government policies, along with understanding how they use the tools at their disposal to reduce uncertainty, is what drives Romero-Habeych’s research.

Where the Grass Grows Greener

The researchers will utilize a drone, equip with various sensors, in hopes of identifying the optimum sensor to detect drought stress on turfgrass. Golf courses in the Lubbock area provide economic benefit to the region according to the projects lead researcher, Joey Young Ph. D.

A situation is playing out in the Texas Panhandle and local golf courses are feeling the heat. During the end of 2017 and into early 2018, the region has gone through an extreme drought, and the main source of groundwater has been in rapid decline for over a decade. Two Texas Tech University faculty members are gearing up to tackle the water issue.

Although an afternoon on the golf course sounds like a fun way to spend the day, for Joey Young, Ph.D. and Wenxuan Guo, Ph.D., two assistant professors in the Department of Plant and Soil Science, it is an opportunity to solve overwatering of recreational turfgrass.

With the region in an extreme drought and the Ogallala Aquifer at risk of total depletion, golf courses like the Rawls Course at Texas Tech are under pressure, said course superintendent, Rodnie Bermea.

“Golf courses use a lot of water,” Bermea said. “In times of drought, it’s especially hard to water all areas of the properly and efficiently. We can end up using more water than we need to, which costs us money and hurts our water supply.”

According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, turf requires an average of 25 to 60 inches of water annually, depending on climate, to maintain a healthy appearance. This is one reason some argue golf courses are wasteful. However, Young, an assistant professor of turfgrass science, sees it differently.

It’s more than a tee time

“There’s definitely a perception that golf courses and turfgrass are something that’s basically a waste of a lot of water, and therefore unnecessary,” Young said. “But that’s just not the case. Courses provide a big economic benefit for cities like Lubbock.”

[Left to Right] Joey Young Ph. D., and Wenxuan Guo Ph. D., discuss plans for their turfgrass research at the Rawls Golf Course as the drone waits, ready for takeoff.
Young argues tournaments and other events hosted at courses like the Rawls impact the local economy by bringing people into the city who utilize local businesses. A sentiment echoed by Bermea.

“Tournaments aren’t only beneficial to the Rawls course, ” Bermea said. “They help everyone. There are the obvious businesses that benefit directly from visitors to the golf course, like hotels, restaurants and all that. But there’s a trickle-down effect on the economy that just can’t be understated.”

While it is apparent golf courses use a lot of water, Young and Guo have devised a plan that could help not only the drought-stricken Lubbock area, but could impact courses around the country and the world.

“Water is our No. 1 limiting resource,” said Guo, an assistant professor of crop ecophysiology and precision agriculture. “Everyone knows the Ogallala Aquifer is depleting at a rapid rate. So, we need to figure out how to save the water or use the water more wisely, more efficiently. This is important from both an economic and social perspective.”

Driving with the drone

Guo said it is not only important to save water for the next generation, but also to conserve water for conventional agriculture production. With a grant provided by the United States Golf Association, the two researchers have developed an experiment with the potential to allow more accurate water allocation on golf courses.

Courses provide a big economic benefit for cities like Lubbock.

“Our goal is to utilize drones and different sensors that will be attached to the drones to collect imagery that could basically determine areas of drought stress on a golf course,” Young said. “The overall purpose would be to utilize various sensors that may give us different information.”

Once these optimal sensors are identified, they could be utilized by golf courses to identify drought stress, potentially before it is even visible to the human eye, Young said. This technology would be used by course managers to adjust irrigation from areas that stay wetter to areas that tend to dry out more. This will ultimately help lower water usage on the golf course and achieve more balanced playing conditions.

“If this technology could allow us to see an area that’s dryer or an area that’s wetter we would be able to water those areas more efficiently,” Bermea said. “We could create a more sustainable irrigation program that would be environmentally beneficial and save us money.”

Simply lowering the golf courses irrigation by 10 to 15 percent would be a huge financial saving for the Rawls, Bermea said.

The research is being conducted at the Rawls Golf Course as well as the Amarillo Country Club, which use different kinds of turfgrass. The varying sensors will give a broader picture of how cool season and warm season turfgrasses handle drought stress.

Young says ultimately he hopes to identify sensors to address specific issues on golf courses and would then like to share that information with course managers around the country. But, it is not just golf courses that may be reaping the benefit of his research.

A put for all mankind

In tandem with the research being conducted on Lubbock and Amarillo golf courses, Guo will also be utilizing the drone and sensor technology to look at lowering water usage in conventional agriculture.

“My area of research is in crop ecophysiology and precision agriculture,” Guo said. “I will be using drones to identify the crop growth variability in fields, within the same season. So, before the final yield at the end of the season, we can look at how the plants are growing and adjust irrigation and other imputes to minimize resource use.”

He said even though different plants sometimes require different methods to study, all plants show drought stress in the same way.

Just like the work being done on the courses, Guo hopes to utilize drone imagery to identify areas of drought stress in crops like corn, cotton and sorghum.

“It has become increasingly important to conserve our water,” Guo said. “The water in our area has been diminishing much faster than originally expected, and we don’t know what our water supply will look like in 20 years. Our whole economy is driven by an adequate water supply, so that makes it urgent.”

This joint research endeavor to ultimately lower water usage in West Texas could have a lasting impact on the region, through improving sustainability and protecting the economic stability of golf courses and conventional agriculture practices. But Young hopes their research will have an even greater impact.

“It’s important to us that we are doing what’s right for our region,” Young said. “But bigger than that I want to communicate our findings to the scientific community in hopes that the information can be shared with course superintendents around the world. For my research to have that kind of reach and impact communities around the world would be the ultimate reward.”

Breeding for Gold and Fame

Dash for Cash Statue that stands outside the Four Sixes Ranch
Dash for Cash, one of the most famous studs to come from the Four Sixes Ranch, has a statue erected in his honor at the ranches’ headquarters.

Dawn breaks in Guthrie, Texas. It’s an overcast day as the staff of the Four Sixes Ranch gather for breakfast. Outside, cowboys are getting horses ready to begin moving and checking herds on horseback, a tradition the Four Sixes prides itself on. Then, it is off to do a day’s work on of the most legendary ranches in Texas.

The Four Sixes Ranch was founded by Samuel Burk Burnett in the 1870s and is currently owned by his great-granddaughter, Anne Burnett Windfohr Marion. This working ranch manages 10,000 Angus and Black Baldy cattle and annually breeds more than 1,200 Quarter Horse mares for the ranch use, performance and racing.

Tours on the ranch

Occasionally, the Four Sixes allows tours of the famous West Texas ranch, and if you are in the horse production course at Texas Tech University, you might just go there on a class field trip. During a tour, a visitor can learn about the history of the Four Sixes, its day-to-day activities, and their horse breeding practices. Visitors are shown around the headquarters, the stallion barn and breeding facilities, and sometimes staff will even take a stallion or two out of their stalls to give visitors a good look.

Kelly Riccitelli, Ph.D., an equine associate professor of practice in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech, takes her classes on the 95-mile field trip to the ranch every spring to show them a real working ranch.

“I think it’s important for students to see what is going on in the industry and what’s current in the industry,” Riccitelli said.

Texas Tech is no stranger to the Four Sixes. The Texas Tech Equestrian Center has sent horses to the ranch to be bred and even had the ranch perform an embryo transfer on a horse. Riccitelli said the Four Sixes is very progressive in their breeding practices and technology and have always been willing to help the Department of Animal and Food Sciences when needed.

“They’re as good at breeding horses as anywhere in the country,” Riccitelli said.

The Four Sixes’ Quarter Horse breeding program has cemented its name in ranching history with the use of advanced technology and a lot of experience. Dr. Glenn Blodgett, the Four Sixes’ horse division manager, is a prime example of tried and tested experience. Beginning his career with the Four Sixes in 1982, Blodgett credits technology for the increase in efficiency and productivity in the industry.

They’re as good at breeding horses as anywhere in the country.

“We’re breeding more mares total than we bred before,” Blodgett said. “We have more stallions on site and fewer mares on site but, yet, we breed more mares.”

Reproductive services

Some of the reproductive services the Four Sixes provides are artificial insemination, semen freezing and storage, mare management, embryo transfer, foaling and transported cooled semen.

Benefits of artificial insemination include reduction of disease transmission, more mares bred, less hauling of horses, ability to add extenders and antibiotics to semen, and decrease the risk of injury.

Freezing and storage of semen is another important part of the Four Sixes’ operation. The ranch is affiliated with Select Breeders Services, which allows them to offer on-site freezing and storage of semen to the public. The Four Sixes’ affiliation with SBS also enables their frozen semen to be shipped to Australia, Argentina, Brazil, the European Union, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay and Uruguay.

“We have a motility analyzer so we can actually see the semen swimming around on a computer screen,” Blodgett said.

Mare management includes basic upkeep of mares residing at the Four Sixes Ranch, for breeding, foaling or other management options.

Embryo transfer consists of taking an embryo from one mare and implanting it into a recipient mare. The Four Sixes maintains its own recipient herd to be able to do this specific reproductive service when needed. Embryo transfers are regularly used when a performance mare is still working and owners would like to use that mare’s genetics to create offspring.

The Four Sixes allows ranch mares to foal out in pastures that are monitored twice a day and has their racing mares foal in foaling stalls. Clients of the Four Sixes can choose either option based on their price point for their mare.

“The Four Sixes is unique because their ranch horse mares are still foaling out in the pasture,” Riccitelli said. “I think it shows a great balance of using technology where it’s needed but not overusing it when it’s not needed.”

The Four Sixes uses Federal Express, Network Global Logistics and its own courier service, Sixes Direct, as a way to transport cooled semen. Sixes Direct serves the Oklahoma City, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Weatherford/Stephenville areas. Blodgett said it is not uncommon for Sixes Direct to ship semen to a ranch in those areas, and on the same day, bring semen back to breed a mare at the Four Sixes.

“This is a more efficient way to get it the same day to those places we are trying to serve,” Blodgett said.

An impressive history

The Four Sixes’ dedication to providing the ranching, performance and racing horse industries with the best possible horses is one of the many reasons why the ranch has been so successful.

George Humphreys, who began managing the Four Sixes in 1932, started building a herd of horses to someday make “the best horses in the country,” according to the Four Sixes website. In the 1960s, the Four Sixes officially added an equine breeding program to its resumé.

One of the most famous stallions to come out of the Four Sixes, Dash For Cash, threw offspring that have earned more than $40 million. The Dash For Cash statue stands outside of the Four Sixes headquarters in Guthrie to remind visitors of the prestige of the ranch’s stallions and breeding program.

In 1994, the Four Sixes was honored with the American Quarter Horse Association’s Best Remuda Award. Now, people come from all over the world to attend the Four Sixes’ horse sales, like the famous Return to the Remuda. Riccitelli said West Texas even benefits from having the Four Sixes in the area because of the tourism the ranch generates.

Everyday advances are being made in the technology and practices used in the breeding industry and the Four Sixes is at the forefront of it all. Blodgett said there are not many businesses that have been around since the 1800s, yet the Four Sixes is still operating.

“We’ve seen changes in the cattle and the horses,” Blodgett said. “The way we raise them. The way we market them. We’ve seen it all change.”

The Best Dill in Texas

Stephen after finishing a long day of working with farmers preparing for cucumber planting season.

The hot and dry growing conditions that often accompany the growing season in Hale County, Texas, can really put farmers in a pickle. However, some farmers in West Texas say the tough growing conditions are no big “dill.”

When driving through Hale County, one can expect to see cotton or wheat in the fields, but many would be surprised to see cucumbers growing.

Plainview farmer, Donald Ebeling grows cucumbers as a unique specialty crop with a short growing season. He has grown cucumbers for Best Maid for over five years. He said Best Maid supplies the seed, plants the seed, provides bees for pollination, and harvests the cucumbers.

“People always think all we grow is cotton out here,” Ebeling said, “but cucumbers grow perfectly in our soil, and our summer rains really help with the cucumber’s short growing season.”

He said the sandy loam soil in West Texas gives farmers the potential to grow almost any crop, but the fear of running out of water holds them back. The decreasing water supply along with continually fluctuating commodity prices impacts the acres of irrigated crops that farmers can grow on this fertile soil.

He said rotation crops create biodiversity in the soil and help break up the irrigation cycle. Cucumbers are especially good for the irrigation demand because they only grow for 45 days. The short growing season allows farmers to get a crop in and out of the ground in time to utilize their water on other slower maturing crops, like cotton.

How This Whole “Dill” Works

Over 60 percent of the pickles Best Maid sells each year are grown in West Texas. Best Maid is the only major pickle company in Texas, contracting 3,000 acres of cucumbers from West Texas farmers, including Ebeling.

Stephen Goetz, Best Maid crop production manager, said cucumbers have a very short growing season compared to many other crops traditionally grown in West Texas. He said his crew plants, hoes, cultivates, and harvests all the cucumbers in the 45-day growing season. His crews start planting on May 25 and finish Aug. 5 and start harvest on July 15 and finish Sept. 20. His job requires him to dedicate a lot of time to checking each field multiple times a day, because cucumbers grow rapidly.

Goetz said Best Maid has two specialized harvesters that simultaneously harvest and cull cucumbers in the field that are either too big or too small. The cucumbers leave the field and go to a pickle shed in Halfway, Texas, where they are hand sorted and graded. The cucumbers are then sent to a tank yard in Mansfield, Texas, to be brined and the fresh cucumbers become pickles. The pickles then go to the pickling factory in Fort Worth to get processed. The West Texas grown pickles grown in West Texas are used for hamburger slices, pickle spears and pickle relish.

Best Maid is one of the only companies in the United States that maintains control of their product from the time it is planted to the time it is on the shelf at the grocery store.

“You know you are eating a good pickle when it comes out of a Best Maid jar,” Goetz said.

Best Maid is the only major pickle company in Texas.

Growing Pains

Cucumbers require warm, dry weather and heavy irrigation, and West Texas summers are known for the unpredictable weather and storms. Ebeling said the biggest risk associated with growing cucumbers is the weather because they are a very fragile crop, but he has learned to just “dill” with the unpredictable weather, such as sand storms and hail storms.

“The cucumbers can be insured as a non-insurable crop,” Ebeling said. “Sounds like an oxymoron, but it is important with the weather we have in West Texas to insure them.”

A Great “Dill”

Ebeling said he enjoys farming because he loves the process and the challenge. He said the cucumbers are a fun crop to grow because they are quick and a nice break from the normal crops he produces each year. Cucumbers can be a challenging crop because timing is not just important, it is crucial. The cucumbers must be watered, sprayed and harvested at the exact right time.

He said an additional benefit associated with growing cucumbers is the cucumbers that are left in the fields can be fed to cows during dry years. Best Maid also allows their producers to feed the cull cucumbers from the pickle shed to their cows.

Ebeling said he enjoys growing cucumbers and other challenging crops, and looks forward to working with Best Maid for many years to come.

If happy cows come from California, then happy pickles come from West Texas.

A Specialized Operation

Ebeling also farms cotton, sorghum, millet, wheat, rye, oats, and corn. In addition, he has a commercial cow-calf operation and runs stocker cattle. He said he always knew he wanted to be farmer. As a young boy his favorite thing to do was help his grandpa take care of the garden. At an early age he realized he wanted a big garden of his own to take care of every day, so he decided to become a farmer.

“My grandpa was a farmer and he was my best friend,” Ebeling said with a smile. “He would let me go to work with him, but it never felt like work to me and to this day it does not feel like work.”

Ebeling said he enjoys farming because it is challenging and always something different every day. He said he feels extremely blessed to be able to do what he loves for living. He said he has a passion for raising crops, but the crop he enjoys raising the most is kids, not just his two children, but also other children in the community.

“I love farming because it is a long and challenging process, just like raising kids,” Ebeling said. “But, when you put in the work and pray a little, the end result is almost always good.”

Wings of West Texas

Cameron Kitten and his father, Philip, are beginning to gear up for a busy season of spraying.
Cameron Kitten and his father, Philip, are beginning to gear up for a busy season of spraying.

With roots in agriculture dating back to the early 1900s, Cameron Kitten and his father, Philip, are keeping with the family tradition every time they take flight in their Air Tractor 502B.

Cameron, 23, a student in Texas Tech University’s Department of Agricultural Education and Communications, grew up around agriculture both in the air and on the ground.

Having raised a variety of crops in both the South Plains and the Dallas Metroplex has helped him gain valuable experience that he will be able to apply to his first season in the air.

“Not one minute in my entire life have I ever thought twice about doing something different,” Cameron said. “It has been aviation, my entire life. It’s never scared me.”

It has been aviation, my entire life. It’s never scared me.Cameron Kitten

Cameron has spent every summer since he could remember helping his dad with their family business, Cone Aerial Spraying Inc., in Slaton, Texas. Philip has sprayed almost every kind of crop in Texas, but has mostly cotton acres under his wing.

Like his father, Cameron grew up around crop dusters and aerial application and he could never completely turn away from it. He said he started to fly solo when he was only 16 years old.

“I’ve been working on the ground for about 13 years,” Cameron said. “This will be first season as a pilot.”

Earning His Wings

As a third generation agriculture pilot, Cameron grew up around aerial application and crop dusters. His family moved from Germany back in the 1900s and chose to settle on a farm with a runway in Slaton, Texas. He said they became farmers and that is what they have always done.

Cameron remembers the stories his grandfather use to tell him about plowing behind mules on their family farm near Slaton. The family, like other farmers in west Texas, farmed mostly cotton.

“A lot of the guys that pioneered aerial application were World War II pilots,” Cameron said.

Cameron said the World War II pilots were primarily from the area and they built a relationship over the strip. Philip grew up around the planes and as pilots that used the runway on their family farm. He would load their planes, and in turn, the World War II veterans taught him about planes and eventually let him fly when he was old enough. Cameron said his dad believes he would not be alive today if it were not for them.

“They taught him how to be a safe ag pilot and a safe pilot in general,” Cameron said. “And it’s the war that taught these guys.”

Cameron believes all the World War II pilots played a huge role in his life as a kid. He said they were all outstanding pilots and they showed his father the whole aviation side to crop dusting.

The series of numbers and letters on the side of their air tractor act as a serial number for the airplane like a license plate does on a vehicle. The lines that run along the bottom side of the air tractor are called booms and nozzles, which help apply pesticides accurately.

Taking Flight

Cameron received his commercial pilots license last summer. He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires every pilot to have multiple licenses depending on the state you reside in. He was required to have his commercial pilots license and his applicator license. Both licenses have continuing education courses as requirements.

While Cameron has certainly put a lot of time and hard earned money in his commercial pilot’s license, he has also logged over 250 hours of flight time.  He is continuing to suit up next to his father to take on his first flight season as an agriculture pilot, while his father begins his 41st season.

“We use an Air Tractor,” Philip said, “we bought ours out of Olney, Texas.”

He said when crop dusters run into problems across the country, other agriculture pilots are more than willing to help. Cameron and Philip agree pilots stick together and look out for one another.

“They are like a brotherhood,” Philip said.

The decline of pilots’ interest in the aerial application industry is facing an age gap like that of the farming sector. The aerial application industry is seeing pilot age trends to be around the 50-year-old age range. The aerial application national community lost 13 agriculture pilots just last year. Agriculture operators are taking interest in the industry to introduce the younger generations to the aerial application sector.

Cameron hopes for the aerial application industry to allow the younger generation to be heard. He believes the costs are affecting the number of people that go into aerial application. He said many people can’t afford the amount of training, education, and costs that factor into getting a pilot’s license.

The Runway to His Career

Although Cameron is currently a senior agricultural leadership major in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications, he has temporarily postponed his senior year to help his dad in the aerial application business.

Cameron said he knew as soon as he walked across the stage at his high school graduation he wanted to go to college. He said he attended Weatherford College for a year until the time his dad needed his help with their aerial applicator business. Once again, he uprooted his life and moved back to West Texas. He also attended South Plains College to finish his basics, and enrolled at Texas Tech in 2015.

He said he was a part-time student and worked for his dad full-time. Cameron said the demand for aerial application is very high in West Texas. Aerial spraying contracts depend on the crop, pests, and other issues.

Cameron said he is working on buying his own plane and has dreams of opening his own business. He said flying has never scared him, and he believes he can make a career out of flying. He thinks he will last quite a while in this business by individually taking care of business and taking care of himself when he goes flying.

He is taking the steps to receive his operator’s certificate, which often takes some people years to complete. He said the numerous steps needed to obtain an operator’s license turn many people away from the profession.

“I really wish I could somehow speak loud enough that somebody would hear and make it easier for kids to grow this business,” Cameron said.

Cotton is King

Here. in West Texas cotton is king. Even though cotton produced isn’t all year round, the students and staff at the Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute work year round to improve cotton producers and consumers.

One of the premier institutes of the College of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources at Texas Tech University is the FBRI. FBRI is equipped and staffed to conduct research and development testing ranging from small-scale testing through large-scale manufacturing. Their goal is to change the way the world talks about fiber quality.

A key objective is to foster greater use of the natural fibers and increase manufacturing of Texas cotton.

“Our efforts to enhance the economic value of cotton as an industrial raw material have increasingly involved research at the structural and molecular levels,” said Dean Ethridge, professor and managing director of Texas Tech’s FBRI. “Cotton is an iconic example of a biopolymer. We believe the decisive technological advances of the future will come from such research.”

The focus of FBRI is testing and researching cotton by working with its chemistry of cotton to test the fibers and transform it to yarn. Working with dyeing crops and finishing special yarn and fabric treatments is one of the main objectives. They work with farmers and seed companies to develop new genotype types and gain ideas for new test and research.

“This institute has long had the mission of being the leader in research, education, and development to enhance the use value of cotton,” said Noureddine Abidi, Ph. D., associate professor and associate director of FBRI.

FBRI is located on the east 19th Street exit on East Loop 289 in Lubbock. With 30 acres of land and a building with 100,000 square feet of air-conditioned space, it has 12,000 square feet of laboratories that are specialized with machines and instruments for research.

The FBRI facility has recently upsized its Materials Evaluation Laboratory and is creating the new Biopolymer Research Laboratory. The BRL is fundamental to the institute’s longstanding mission to add value to natural fibers produced in Texas and part of a growing collaboration with plant breeders, geneticists and biotechnologists. The new building will help FBRI increase its research projects.

The knowledge gleaned in the new FBRI building is verified and augmented by the Cotton Phenpmies and Yarn Spinning laboratories. These laboratories are some of the main laboratories at FBRI. The Cotton Phenomics Laboratory provides in depth physical testing and evaluation for fibers, yarns and fabrics.

Besides being essential for the research program at the institute, the new laboratory is indispensible for serving the testing needs of plant breeders, cotton merchants, textile manufacturers, yarn and fabric importers, and waste fiber and linter suppliers. For fibers, measurements are made both on central tendencies and on distributions. The spinning laboratory contains a ring spinning, compact spinning, and open-end rotor spinning machinery.  All required facilitating processes opening, blending, cleaning, carding, combing, drawing, roving, winding, twisting, and plying support these machines.

A new trash and dust handling system ensures constant levels of air pressures and flows, which increases reliability of spinning trials.  Besides enabling observation and documentation of spinning performance, yarns are delivered back to the Materials Evaluation Laboratory for any needed quality measurement.

FBRI is used by many different colleges within Texas Tech University, such as the college of engineering, agricultural sciences and natural resources, and human sciences for advanced degree programs and special courses as well. The institute consists of interdisciplinary faculty with doctorates degrees in chemistry, fiber technology, molecular biology, and agricultural economics.

“Working with grand students, Ph. D. students, interns, and internationally students help this institute grow not only in Lubbock but all over the world,” Abidi said.

Several graduate level courses are taught through the Department of Plant and Soil Science and the Department of Industrial Engineering. Professional education includes the Texas International Cotton School, as well as short courses, conferences, seminars and special tours.

Scholars from throughout the world conduct postgraduate research at this center. More than 4,000 people visit annually to see the research and testing done by these students and staff at FBRI.

The objective of FBRI is to foster greater use of the natural fibers and increase textile manufacturing in Texas. FBRI works with cotton from all over Texas but the main source of cotton tested is from the West Texas region.

“Cotton is the king in West Texas, so our job here is to do research and testing and make sure cotton remains the king of West Texas,” said Abidi.

Texas accounts for 60 percent of the U.S. cotton acreage, and West Texas makes up for over half of that. Having FBRI in West Texas helps farmers get a better understanding of the strength of their cotton and how the testing and research is done first hand.

“Over the last 10 years, West Texas cotton has experienced a dramatic transformation through new transgenic cotton varieties and advanced technology, but collaborative research was what helped bring the regional and national cotton industries to greener pastures,” said Ethridge.

As the world population is expected to double by 2050, farmers and ranchers are rapidly trying to feed and clothe our world’s population. With the help of FBRI, cotton producers will be able to do their part by keeping their industry up to the task of pleasing consumers and putting clothes on their backs.

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