Alfred Reed Bishop and Doris William Butler

The picture above is the very tap root of Bishop's Homegrown/Face Of The Earth Seed. My grandparents shortly after moving to Pekin Indiana from Greensburg KY in 1947 where they purchased the farm that is now Bishop's Homegrown. This picture was taken in Pekin in front of the old co-op next to the old railroad depot, neither of which exist today.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Too long overlooked:

Too long overlooked:
Exploring and re-introducing alternative crops for the sake of nutrition, bio-diversity and self sustainability, a look at a few alternative crops we will be working with in the coming years.

Written and Researched By: Alan Reed Bishop of Hip-Gnosis Seed Development

Naturally colored cotton.

You may not realize it, but cotton has not always been white, as a matter of fact naturally occurring populations of cotton are often every color but white! Colored cotton (Genus: Gossypium) has been selected for and bred in a number of earth tone colors from Peru to Egypt and into the far East for nearly 3,000 years. During the era of slavery it was common to see cotton fields in the south exhibiting cottons in colors of green, brown, pink, and blue and most often slaves were not allowed to cultivate the white varieties due to perceived impurities, just another form of racism.

By the time of the industrial revolution and the invention of mechanical cotton gins and spinning machines colored cotton had fallen out of favor in the United States due to it’s generally short fiber (referred to as staple) which made mechanical spinning difficult if not impossible. As odd as it seems given the long history of traditional plant breeding in this country I’ve uncovered little if any evidence of historical cross breeding between species to develop a longer fibered colored cotton until the early 1980’s. Instead of doing what common sense dictates it appears that the large industrial producers of cotton instead preferred to and do still to dye their cottons with toxic chemicals which harm the environment to produce even the very same colors that are common in naturally colored cottons.

Cotton is a very demanding crop and one in which the cultivation most often involves the direct abuse of natural resources and overuse and rampant abuse of carcinogenic chemicals which leach into our soil, water, and even food supply. However, many of the primitive colored cottons have a higher degree of pest resistance and are further suited to poor soils and organic culture systems than the modern, often genetically modified, types of white cotton. Another admirable trait as seen in the eyes of a utilitarian plant breeder.

There are a very few modern companies producing some amount of colored cottons and much has been said about Sally Fox and her FoxFibre clothing line. The only thing that I will say about the subject of Sally Fox is that proclaiming the “invention” and patenting systems for breeding colored cotton is a direct slap in the face of traditional plant breeders, Native American farmers, and traditional agriculture the world over. What gives anyone the right to proclaim such a thing is somewhat beyond my comprehension, particularly someone who is attempting to “introduce” an alternative but does so by traveling the very same roads and making the same stops as those large companies which came before.

Upon searching the internet and seed companies as well as a number of gene banks in my search for colored cottons I came across very few resources and suppliers though I have found a unique and intriguing history of colored cotton and it’s many utilitarian uses and it’s resurgence. I managed to dig around and come up with five cultivars. Four of which were available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
( ) . The varieties available were only available in shades of green and brown. The varieties listed were: Nankeen (a short staple brown), Mississippi Brown (another short staple brown), Erlenes Green (a short staple green, and Arkansas green lint (another short staple Green. With a little research I was able to find a source for Peruvian brown cotton via Native Seeds/SEARCH, however it would appear that the USDA has put a useless, and wide reaching restrictive quarantine on this type due to “pink boll worm” and despite Indiana not being a cotton growing state, seed could not be shipped here and was only available to a small handful of south-western states. Thanks to a good friend however I was able to get my hands on a small batch of this genetically diverse seed with a longer “staple” and variation in color from chocolate brown to green.

This is not the first time that colored cottons have been quarantined. In the southern cotton growing states it is illegal to grow colored cottons for fear of being an alternative host to boll worms and also due to fear of cross contamination with cultivated white cotton. Fears which are unfounded and which have also unfortunately led to the demise and extinction in much cotton diversity. The same restrictive laws were also set into place in Peru all the way into the mid 80’s, by which time much of the genetic diversity had been destroyed or eroded.

Why bother to grow colored cottons in Indiana or to produce diverse seed and new crosses and cultivars of which to organic gardeners and market farmers? My reasons are many, but among the top of those reasons is history. As my growing out, selection, crossing, and maintaining a number of Nicotiana Tobaccum lines is representative of a lesson in the history and culture of my heritage and family and a valuable lesson for new gardeners and children so too do these colored cottons and their cultivation, harvest, preservation and history hold valuable lessons for future generations, including finding a new respect for the hard work that slaves were forced to endure, I am a firm believer that everyone should have to harvest cotton boles at least once during a hot summer day to truly understand what the slaves and cotton farmers had to endure in olden times, it gives us a chance to experience living history and find a newfound and invigorating respect for the peoples and days that have come before us. Of course the history also extends back to our ancestors and their cultivation of and development of these cottons and their utilitarian uses and one day these colored cottons may become an important source of textile material again, as useful as they are beautiful!

These cottons represent living history and human achievement in natural and sustainable systems, many of these cottons exhibit a tolerance to pest and disease pressures that modern cottons do not and these cottons can even be grown in very poor soil with very good results. Indeed these cottons are far removed in practicality, advantageous traits, beauty, and utilitarian traits from their genetically modified and environmentally damaging cousins, the cultivated white cotton of the south. Among the other virtues of these beautiful cultivars are and increased an unique softness to the touch, they are hardy and genetically diverse, adapted to a number of growing environments, pest and drought tolerant, and they eliminate the need for harmful chemical dyes which further pollute the already fragile eco-systems in cotton growing states.

Indeed I would love to see gardeners across the nations take up the hard work of saving and maintaining old strains of cottons, new potential crosses, and genetically diverse blends, even if the boles are never put to their advantageous use they do make a beautiful border plant and an interesting and important living history lesson.


Quinoa is an ancient cereal or pseudo cereal (not a true member of the grass family) grown for its edible seeds and greens. Quinoa was developed in the Andean region of South America where it has been grown for nearly 6,000 years by the Native American tribes in this region, usually at high elevations, making it a somewhat hardy and versatile crop. In morphology and description it somewhat resembles another South American grain crop, Amaranth which we will also be growing in trials this year. Quinoa is of interest not just because of it history and perceived rarity in North America making it a niche product but also because of its nutritional properties. Quinoa is 12-18% protein and high in essential amino acids, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, and dietary fiber, and is also low in Gluten making it a nearly complete food and also a kosher source of food and a great alternative for diabetics.

We will be growing out three varieties of Quinoa this year sourced from Seeds of Change.

The seed/grain apparently contains Saponins which impart a bitter flavor. A trait which is desirable in the field to ward off birds and other scavenging pests but not too popular in the culinary trade. It is apparently this bitter flavor which may have caused the Europeans to pass up this important staple of Native American diet while they were colonizing the Americas. The Saponins are removed using water prior to cooking. Some amount of educating the public about this important crop will be expected, in time however we feel its virtues will outweigh the extra steps of preparation.


Amaranth refers to a wide variety of species (60 or so) with a widespread range and culinary or other uses which produce vividly colorful inflorescences (flower spikes) and foliage.

The types which we will be growing this year are used much like the Quinoa mentioned above and originated in the same areas (Amaranthus caudatus, Amaranthus cruentus, and Amaranthus hypochondriacus.). The foliage can be eaten as a pot herb/cooked green and the seed is used as a grain. Amaranth is high in essential amino acids and lycopene and is a crop to be watched in the future, particularly for arid climates where drought tolerance is absolutely necessary and where nutrition is scarce and land poor.

We will be developing, selecting, and maintain Amaranths here on the farm and for distribution through Hip-Gnosis Seed Development. Searching and selecting specifically for productivity, beauty, taste and nutrition and seeking to develop new colors of inflorescences.

This year will also see a grow out of several rare South American root crops such as Yacon, Maca, and Oca. At a later time we will publish a general paper on these particular crops. The above published paper will be updated as the 2008 season progresses and we harvest a crop, seeds, make selections, and take notes on general and natural observations.

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