DARLINGTON, S.C. – Vast fields of white cotton are harvested each year by South Carolina farmers.
Typically, the crop is hauled to a gin and baled before being sold to a textile factory or cotton merchant. For Darlington County farmers Ty and Tracy Woodard, some of their cotton is transformed into a product that interweaves their story of farm and faith to affect families beyond their fields.
Tracy Woodard said their business, Covered in Cotton, started in December 2017 with a vision to create a product from their locally grown upland cotton. Woven from a crop harvested from their family farm, their 100 percent cotton throw blankets are cultivated and crafted in the Carolinas. Currently, they offer three blanket designs, each named for one of their three children.
Their children were a key reason they created Covered in Cotton, Tracy Woodard said. In December 2015, their 3-month-old son, Tobin, had a fever and showed signs of lethargy and pain. They rushed him to the emergency room at Palmetto Health Children's Hospital in Columbia, where Tobin was diagnosed with Type F bacterial meningitis.
“His diagnosis was very rare, very severe and very dangerous,” Tracy Woodard said. “The infectious disease doctors had never seen a case with his specific type of bacteria. Each day at the hospital was a roller coaster all its own with spinal taps, IV attempts, specialists, MRIs, therapies and CT scans.”
By Christmas Eve, Tobin’s condition had worsened, and neurosurgeons were forced to perform emergency brain surgery. Although the surgery went well, Ty and Tracy Woodard were cautioned by doctors that their son might never develop beyond 3 months old, and at the least he probably would experience developmental delays or permanent hearing or vision loss, Tracy Woodard said.
“In spite of what we'd been told, we celebrated Christmas that year with a renewed sense of awe and wonder at the work of our Savior,” Tracy Woodard said. “He had carried us through each moment and protected our family in the midst of the worst days of our lives.”
Tobin improved daily after the surgery, and he showed no signs of the destruction commonly inflicted by the bacteria. After 35 days in the hospital, Tobin was released and made a full recovery.
“Our son and we went through some really hard things, but it was a huge blessing,” Tracy Woodard said. “As we walked through that valley, we found a faith, comfort and peace we’d never experienced before. As Covered in Cotton was born, we knew that we’d been given the opportunity to share our story and bring that same faith, comfort and peace to other families experiencing a similar hardship.”
Creating blankets was inspired by a nurse who gave them a blanket at the beginning of their stay with Tobin. Now, they donate one blanket to a local children’s hospital for every 10 they sell. In December 2018, they were able to donate 40 blankets to the Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital exactly three years after their ordeal. Next, they plan to donate to the McLeod Children’s Hospital in Florence, Tracy Woodard said.
“A blanket is a practical gift, but it was a huge reminder about how we were covered in prayer and how the Lord worked in our lives,” Tracy Woodard said.
Combining Tracy’s training and skill in graphic communication with Ty’s lifelong farming experience, they decided to create a business that would allow them to work together while sharing the story of their family and farm.
Although they had a passion for their cause, it was not a simple matter to transform their raw cotton into ornate blankets. With a clear vision of what they wanted to accomplish, Ty and Tracy Woodard used contacts at Cotton Incorporated and some internet research to find family-owned businesses to help them.
To make the blankets, cotton harvested from Woodard Farms near Darlington travels to the cotton gin in Hartsville. From there, it goes to the spinner in Thomasville, North Carolina, then to the yarn plyer in Hickory, North Carolina, down to the weaver in Blacksburg, and it returns to the farm as 100 percent ring-spun cotton throws.
“We’ve worked closely with all local family-owned businesses right in our backyard of the Carolinas,” Ty Woodard said. “The amount of grace and generosity they gave us was so incredible. We are committed to invest in American families and businesses as we lay the foundation for the future.”
Along with the cause they serve, Covered in Cotton provides an important opportunity to diversify the growing farm business. From Woodard Farm’s inception in 1960, they have grown slowly and steadily, Ty Woodard said. Along with cotton, Ty, his brother and father grow soybeans, corn and peanuts and raise Black Angus beef cattle. Since there are multiple families for the farm to support, it is important to have new enterprises, he added.
“Our long-term goal is to leave the farm as a legacy for the next generation,” Ty Woodard said. “We want to have a viable business for our kids to come back to. In these volatile times for farmers, this business allows another area for growth. But it’s not just about making a more profitable farm. Our responsibility to the land, the resources and our community is something we take very seriously.”
As they grow, they plan to offer more products and blanket designs, promote agriculture in South Carolina by showing how crops can be used in creative ways and connect people with a cause while sharing the hope of Jesus, Tracy Woodard said.
“If you have a quality product and a good cause that people can get behind, it will be what it’s supposed to be,” Ty Woodard said. “We're sowing and reaping with our children's children in mind, with a hope that they will not just build on our tradition of agriculture, but also our legacy of faith and trust in Jesus.”