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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.