The Return to Indigo Farming
Even though synthetic indigo is inexpensive and less labor intensive to produce, it comes with a plethora of environmental harms as it is made out of toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, cyanide and petroleum. These harmful materials are then released back into the environment when denim or food and beverage companies produce excess waste. The environmental damage caused by synthetic indigo has inspired many to return to indigo farming and natural indigo use. Sarah Bellos, founder of Stony Creek Colors, was once a tobacco farmer, but now harvests indigo and sells to fabric producers. She also convinces other tobacco farmers to leave behind the dying industry, and transition to indigo harvesting. Bellos strives to modernize the indigo farming process by eliminating the environmental hazards that synthetic indigo produces, and provide a natural alternative for fashion and food industries.
Aside from the environmental impact of synthetic indigo, there has also been a resurgence of natural/organic indigo farming due to the rich history of the trade. Caroline and David Harper are indigo farmers on Edisto Island, part of South Carolina’s lowcountry. During a trip to Japan, Caroline stayed near an indigo farm where she learned more about the plant and shibori. She also delved into the history of indigo in South Carolina and how it provided vast agricultural and economic success for the British colony during the mid-1700’s. Caroline and her husband now run CHI Design Indigo where they host events and workshops, aimed at educating people on the history of indigo and how to harvest and use it themselves. Ultimately, her decision to begin indigo farming was fostered by the rich history surrounding indigo harvesting and how the plant can connect people back to the land.
Fortunately the interest and desire to grow and use organic, natural dyes is spreading across the country with small farm to dye projects and urban gardens alike. One example is Blue Light Junction located in Baltimore, Maryland (https://www.bluelightjunction.com/).