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Elizabeth and HeatherAll T-shirts sold at the Common Ground Country Store and supplied to Fair volunteers are made from certified organic cotton grown in Texas. The 810 dozen on hand for this year’s Fair represent approximately eight bales of ginned cotton (cotton with bulbs, seed, sticks and leaves removed), the product of just under 5 acres.

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Last year Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott invited media frenzy by announcing his plan to move the company in a more environmentally friendly direction. Was this “greenwash,” a crafty bid to deflect attention from Wal-Mart’s labor and other problems – or was it a glimpse of true, sustainable commerce played out on the high-profile stage of the world’s largest retailer? As environmentalists struggle with these questions, industries that produce for Wal-Mart’s shelves have a bottom-line interest in how shoppers react to the store’s “sustainable” products.

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Eli Whitney was just trying to help. Before he invented the cotton gin in 1793, workers removed cotton seeds from the fiber by hand, cleaning one pound a day. Using his simple machine, a single person could clean 50 pounds. In just a few years, this labor-intensive plant of dubious profit potential became one of the country’s preeminent cash crops. With cotton as his muse, Whitney had launched the Industrial Revolution.

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One-quarter of all insecticides and one-tenth of all pesticides are applied to conventionally grown cotton. This directory promotes sustainable alternatives and links the worldwide cotton chain, from growers to gins, mills, manufacturers and retailers.

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According to the Organic Trade Association Fiber Council, U.S. organic cotton acreage increased 15-fold since 1990, when only 900 acres were grown. During 2000, an estimated 13,460 acres of certified organic and transitional cotton were planted in six states. This is 43% more than the 9,368 acres planted in 1998.

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