I must have chanted that rhyme a million times as a child, and not once did I ever think that I would be the one holding the three bags of wool. Who would have thought that I would have a sheep farm one day? I think there are members of my extended family who still wonder at such a thing. Our journey in farming has evolved and grown over time. We did not set out to own a sheep farm. They entered our lives as a means to maintain our pastures. Using the wool from our sheep was an after thought, and now is the focal point of just about everything I do.
Our farm now raises meat (chicken and pork), pasture lambs, eggs, and vegetables for our own family, and a few fortunate neighbors, fellow farmers, and guests. I spend the better part of the summer and fall growing, harvesting, and putting away our bounty. Five years ago, we converted one end of our home into bed and breakfast rooms. This endeavor, to share our rural farm life with others, extends what began 25 years ago as a desire to raise our own food, into a desire to help others make a connection between farm and food, and farm and yarn.
|Shearing Day at Grand View Farm 2011|
Our sheep and other fiber animals (llamas and German Angora rabbit), provide the central focus to our farm and my life. Our yarn business and the fiber classes we hold here on the farm, rely upon them for their wool. The astute yarn customer or guest to our farm recognizes that our small flock can not possibly provide all the wool necessary for all the yarn we produce. So where does the wool come from that goes into our yarn? All of our yarn CSA shares come from the wool produced here on our farm, from our own sheep, llamas, and rabbits. In doing so, I am certain of the quality of wool and fiber put into the yarn. My CSA customers want to feel a direct connection to our livelihood and our animals. They wish to “know” their wool producers and know their purchase supports a family farm. When our customers come to the farm, I can personally introduce them to the flock that provided the wool for the yarn they have purchased. I can introduce them to the llamas that their share helped us purchase, and they can hold the bunny whose fiber was used to make their shawl. Our CSA share holders feel a connection to our family and farm, and have the satisfaction of knowing that they have supported us and our farming efforts.
|Ewe and Lamb from John O’Brien’s Flock|
Once all of the CSA yarn has been fulfilled, I then turn to a local farm just about 10 miles down the road to provide me with additional Romney wool. John O’Brien, movie producer and shepherd, maintains a large flock of Romney sheep, which he inherited from his parents. A mutual fiber friend, saw the potential of my yarn business and John’s wool, and connected the two of us together. John raises his sheep primarily for meat lambs. For years, he composted his wool. Now, I purchase the wool from him, and have put his own yarn, made from his own sheep, into his hands and the hands of his friends. Last year, I used approximately 18 fleeces from John’s flock. He does not coat his sheep in the winter as I do, and so the process of skirting his fleeces is tedious and takes a long time. In the end, I am rewarded with lovely Romney locks of wool with an amazing luster. This wool goes into my bulky weight yarn, sock yarn, and felting batts. So now, my yarn customers support not just one Vermont farm, but two!
|Two Lambs from 2011|
At our current level of farming, I know that my endeavors on our farm will not make me rich, and will not even support our family. My husband has a “real job” and earns the income needed to raise a family of five, home school, and now send our children off to college. I need my sheep, and all of the animals here on our farm, to earn their keep, and that is what they do. We are stashing away something much more valuable than money here on our farm. We are enriching lives. My reward comes when a yarn customer visits the farm and has an “aha” moment, making the connection between their knitting project and my sheep, or when a child from New York City collects fresh eggs for the first time, or when my farmstay guest looks at me in amazement, after eating breakfast, and says, “it tastes so fresh!” They have fit the pieces of the puzzle together; their appreciation for and their value of local farms and sustainable agriculture has increased exponentially. Our farm has made the connection, and one more person in the world understands what “buy local” and farming is all about.