News / USA

Voracious Bug Paved Way for Southern Town's Prosperity

Boll weevil taught Alabama community hard lesson about economic survival

Multimedia

Audio
Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

A statue on Main Street in Enterprise, Alabama, features a woman holding a large, black boll weevil above her head.
A statue on Main Street in Enterprise, Alabama, features a woman holding a large, black boll weevil above her head.

While many U.S. cities have suffered because of the recession, one town in the southern state of Alabama, has fared surprisingly well. The town of Enterprise has applied a turn-of-the-century economic lesson, learned from an agricultural pest.

Like many American small towns, Enterprise, Alabama has a monument in the middle of Main Street. But it's not a statue of a Civil War general, or a local lawmaker. It's a statue of a woman with white robes and long hair.

Her arms are thrust high into the sky, and she holds aloft a giant black bug.

It's a boll weevil.

Ironic tribute

Almost a century ago, this small, voracious beetle migrated north from Central America, eating its way through U.S. cotton fields. Swarms of boll weevils destroyed two-thirds of the cotton crop in this region.

But soon after, the town built a monument to honor the bug. Local historian Scott Smith points out the irony.

"How a pest that really caused so much economic hardship, oddly contributed to great changes in agriculture and to the prosperity of this region."

When boll weevils destroyed the cotton harvest in 1915, it was devastating. Until then, cotton had been the region's largest crop.  But the infestation actually gave local farmers an opportunity to try something new. They planted a different crop the boll weevil couldn't harm: peanuts.

After boll weevils destroyed the cotton crop, Enterprise soon produced more peanuts than any other region in US.
After boll weevils destroyed the cotton crop, Enterprise soon produced more peanuts than any other region in US.

 

Thriving new industry

Today, a few blocks up from the Boll Weevil Statue, conveyor belts carry rivers of peanuts to be cracked and ground at the Sessions Company. Chairman Mo Sessions' great-grandfather was the first person to make peanuts profitable in Enterprise.

"He heard that peanuts were an alternative to cotton," Sessions explains. "And so he procured some peanut seed and planted peanuts in the summer of 1916. So ever since then our family has been in the peanut business."

By 1919, the region produced more peanuts than any other in the U.S. - bringing in millions of dollars to the local economy. But farmers had learned the hard way they couldn't rely on just one crop, so they planted more corn, peaches, and figs.

After the boll weevil destroyed the cotton crop, farmers diversified, deciding never to rely on just one crop.
After the boll weevil destroyed the cotton crop, farmers diversified, deciding never to rely on just one crop.

More diversity

As the decades went by, other non-agricultural industries came to Enterprise, including the U.S. Army.

Every day helicopters from an army post right outside town fly overhead. Fort Rucker is the center for the Army's helicopter training school. Some people call the place 'Mother Rucker' because so many aviators cycle through its gates.

Deputy Garrison Commander, Justin Mitchell, says that traffic means income for the surrounding communities. "Military folks move every two years generally, two to three years, and so that turnover and that constant influx of buying houses, buying cars, buying clothes for schools, is just a huge impact to the Enterprise community."

Fort Rucker employs 14,000 civilians and contractors. Soldiers in military fatigues are a common sight on the streets of Enterprise, shopping at local businesses and restaurants. Mitchell says Fort Rucker contributes one billion dollars a year to the region.

Enterprise has one of the strongest economies in Alabama.
Enterprise has one of the strongest economies in Alabama.

A strong economy

Phil Thomas, president of the Enterprise Chamber of Commerce, notes proudly that for the past two years, his town has had one of the strongest economies in Alabama.

"Everyone's unemployment rates have gone up in the past year, year and a half. Relatively speaking, ours have been very low. We have remained the third lowest unemployment rate in Alabama for six to nine months now."

Thomas says Enterprise learned to be strong from the Boll Weevil. The pest taught the town the value of a diverse economy.

"Agriculture, the military, the business community, industry, and service jobs all take about 20 percent of our economy, so it's really good for us because if one sector is a little bit slow or has a downturn, the other sectors can pull it out."

Today, the boll weevil has been eradicated from the fields of the southern United State. But the insect still holds an honored place in Enterprise: in the monument on Main Street; in the hearts of the residents of Enterprise; and, in its own way, in the local economy.

You May Like

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land In French Port

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching 'Fortress Europe' More

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

New Hints That Dark Matter Exists

New evidence from International Space Station hints at existence of dark matter and dark energy More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid