Category Archives: Reduce, reuse, recycle

A Virtual Holiday Pop-up hosted by Three Rivers Fibershed

On December 12th and 13th, 2020, Three Rivers Fibershed is hosting a virtual holiday pop-up on their Instagram page!

I love being a shepherd to my small flock of Coopworth and Romeldale CVM sheep and I’m super excited and honored to be a producer member of Three Rivers Fibershed alongside Alejandra, Stacy, Theresa, Patti, Kelly, Beth and Melissa.

Here are the links to all our Instagram pages so you can follow along during the virtual pop-up and also to keep up with our lovely sheep and our wool products in the future:

A Woolen Forest Farm & Studio
Autumn Larch Farm LLC
Dresow Family Farm
Get Bentz Farm
Holly Ridge Farm
Namekagon Valley Farm & Studio
Priory Farm LLC
Wool & Feather Farm

We would love for you to purchase our products, of course. And, we would be extremely grateful to you if you could help spread the word about our shepherds, our fiber and our fibershed by liking and sharing our posts.

Local Fiber, Local Labor, Local Dye

Three Rivers Fibershed develops regional fiber systems that build soil and protect the health of our biosphere here in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota. Our strategic geography is centered in Minneapolis and extends out in a 175 mile radius. Three Rivers Fibershed is an affiliate of Fibershed. “Fibershed develops regional and regenerative fiber systems on behalf of independent working producers, by expanding opportunities to implement carbon farming, forming catalytic foundations to rebuild regional manufacturing, and through connecting end-users to farms and ranches through public education.

Our flocks and farms are counting on your support, especially during this pandemic year when it is harder for us to attend in person events.  Our direct-to-you farm raised fiber is most probably more expensive than the larger corporate brands, but there are no hidden costs that are being paid elsewhere by the environment or by far away laborers.  We work very hard to raise quality wool and care deeply about our small flocks of sheep and the land that sustains them.

You can ask me anything about a skein of yarn or ball of roving: Where was it milled?  What sort of antics did the sheep who grew it get up to when she was in her lambhood?  Can I recognize her voice from a distance?
My flock and I are a team – year on year we have improved the health of the soil beneath our permanent pastures.  Healthy soil means more carbon stored and we are turning sunshine and earth’s elements into wool.  Amazing, glorious wool: biodegradable, renewable, warm even when wet; varieties from soft as babies skin to sturdy enough for under our feet as rugs and over our heads as roofs – wool.

Please check out my online shop when you have a chance.  I welcome any questions you may have.  If you are thinking about gifts for the fiber fans in your life and aren’t sure what they need/want, you will find e-gift cards in the shop – a perfect virtual stocking stuffer that allows them to pick the perfect thing for their next project.

And remember to check the Three Rivers Fibershed Instagram page often on Dec. 12th and 13th, 2020. You’ll be in for a treat as each shepherd takes over the stories with in-depth information about their farm, flock and fiber!

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Filed under Farm, Fiber Arts, Fibershed, natural dyes, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Sheep, Sustainability, Wool

Learning about dyeing with plants

Coopworth roving dyed with dried Japanese Indigo leaves

I’m loving this learning about dyeing with natural materials. Except that the learning curve is so very steep. The really great thing, though, is that even when I don’t get the colors I expected, I still get really beautiful results. BTW, the beautiful and saturated blues I got in the picture above is my beginners luck experience.

I’m a proud producer member of Three Rivers Fibershed. Though I had been interested in the idea of natural dyes prior to joining them, it is really the Fibershed ethic of Local Labor, Local Fiber and Local Dye that encouraged me to begin this journey into local dye plants.

I began raising Japanese indigo several years ago. I have tried to master the fermentation techniques that are a common way of extracting color from indigo, but have not had success with that…yet! I will continue to experiment this summer, but with tiny jars until I gain more confidence. Sea Spell Fiber’s over-extraction stories on Instagram have been invaluable to learning the process.

Japanese indigo extraction experiment
Japanese indigo extraction experiment

Happily, I have had success extracting color from indigo by two other techniques – the dried indigo technique that I first learned about from Deb McClintock’s webpage. And the fresh leaf technique that is like creating an indigo smoothie. You just swirl it up and shazam, it turns the wool a beautiful aqua blue green! Watching the oxidation take place before your eyes is really cool too. I did this experiment with my niece and her good buddy since it involved nothing but indigo and water. And, I’ve learned that where indigo is native, it is considered to be really healthy stuff. In fact, if we are wearing clothes that are dyed with real indigo leaves, the clothing may be healthful to our skin!?!

Fresh Japanese Indigo “smoothie”
The results of dyeing with that indigo smoothie – it is after that when I learned about the wonders of using a paint strainer to keep the plant material away from my wool.

I’m probably most excited about using things that are either food waste or plants that are less than desirable in my environment. In the food waste department, I have worked with avocado pits and skins and onion skins. And, in the less desirable plant department (weeds, non-native invasives, etc.), I have so far done dye experiments with curly dock seeds, stinging nettle leaves and tansy blossoms.

The experiments will continue. My knowledge will grow. The highly enjoyable journey continues! If you would like to get your hands on a skein of naturally dyed Coopworth yarn or roving, have a look at the ever changing color lineup in my online store. And watch for posts of my dye journey on Instagram

Tansy and Japanese indigo over-dyed with tansy.
Tansy and Japanese indigo over-dyed with tansy. Coopworth roving.
Autumn aspen leaf dyed Coopworth yarn
Hollyhock blossom dyed Coopworth yarn and roving
Elderberry dye pot
Elderberry dyed Coopworth yarn – berries tend to be “fugitive dyes” – not likely to stay this lovely pink long-term. They will fade to a pleasing blue-grey.
Marigolds, rudbekia and calendula destined for drying and later wool dyeing.

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Filed under Family and friends, Farm, Fermentation, Fiber Arts, Fibershed, gardening, natural dyes, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Research, Sustainability, Wool

One Year – One Outfit

Three Rivers Fibershed (TRF)is an affiliate of Fibershed which was founded by Rebecca Burgess and has been developing “regional fiber systems that build soil & protect the health of our biosphere.”

A “Fibershed” is a strategic geography, like a foodshed or watershed, a way to engage our community and local resources. The Fibershed model allows small farms to produce fiber while maintaining a diverse and healthy ecosystem in small pockets. The Three Rivers Fibershed focuses on a radius of 175 miles from the Textile Center in Minneapolis, and includes portions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and South Dakota.

Fibershed places the responsibility of where our clothing comes from- its production and construction- in our hands and within our community. It offers transparency, traceability, and accountability to each individual involved from the provider to processor to consumer. Fibershed champions the use of sustainable, locally sourced raw animal and vegetable fiber which has been ethically grown and raised, purchased at a fair price from environmentally responsible producers, and finally processed in a safe environment where all workers are treated and paid fairly. Consumers are deliberate and intentional in their clothing purchases, buying less clothing, but that is made to last a lifetime, whose story and background forms a direct and personal connection between producer and consumer while supporting a local industry with familiar faces and direct contact.

Our Fibershed aims to be inclusive, providing opportunities for connection among farmers and mills, artists and makers, consumers and everyone in between.

The Three Rivers Fibershed Board

One year one outfit is a maker challenge where participants aim to make a locally sourced outfit in one year using the Fibershed principles of Local Fiber, Local Labor, and Local Dyes. The Three Rivers Fibershed is facilitating the formation of a group to support each other in working to create local outfits starting with the first of four events to help support folks interested in giving it a try!

More details can be found at: http://www.threeriversfibershed.com/blog/

January 12, 2019 from 11 am to 2 pm in Edina, MN is the kick-off meeting for the One Year – One Outfit project. Please consider setting a challenge for yourself and join us on the 12th if you can, or learn more here.

I (Jane of Autumn Larch Farm LLC) will be attending the kick-off meeting as a fiber source/producer member of TRF and also as a maker. I’m excited to be scheming about my locally sourced outfit, the constraints and the opportunities these constraints present!

Coopworth yarn in varying weights and a range of natural colors from creamy white through almost black.
I’ll be bringing sheep specific Coopworth wool yarn and roving with me to Edina so that project participants can get rolling on their outfits right away.

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Sheep of another Fiber

„TribuT“ by Jean Luc Cornec

My sister-in-law sent me a screenshot of these critters and I was so amazed!  I have an actual flock of sheep of a similar population.  And, I’ve been going through belongings trying to declutter and pare down on possessions and came across the rotary phone I received as a teenager – bright red.

I would imagine, as with roll down windows in a car, most of today’s youngsters would have no idea what to do with these phones.

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Filed under Family and friends, Fiber Arts, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Sheep

Sheep Handling Facility

Sounds fancy, doesn’t it?  I’m so excited!  I mentioned in an earlier post that this was in the works and I finally got it completed and ran the sheep through it yesterday.

Here are some pictures and then I will describe what it is and how it works:

My sheep are not so tame that I can simply walk up to them and work with them.  I have to contain them in some way in order to give vaccinations, dose with wormers, weight them, check their body condition score, etc.

In the past, I hauled hog panels out to the pasture and created an enclosure where I worked with them.  This was time consuming, tough on my back and not very efficient.  As I mentioned in a blog post this March (Getting Organized…Hopefully…Yes!), I had the brainstorm to carve a small sheep handling area out of a corner of the barn.  I included some pictures of the construction in a May blog post (Update on Organizing).

I may someday invest in gates and chutes made specifically for the purpose, but for now, I’m happy to try out this low cost option and see how it works, tweak it if necessary and save a lot of time over my old method while also keeping my sheep much more comfortable and reducing their stress.

I used hog panels and lumber already on hand.  I did all of the construction myself, but also need to give my husband Chris a big thank-you for the custom channels he fabricated for me on the table saw and planer.  I cut hog panels to 24″ width and they lift and lower beautifully (guillotine like) in these channels to allow one sheep at a time to move forward toward the enclosure with the scale.

During the test run yesterday, I weighed each sheep, wormed her with garlic juice, checked her body condition (all except the yearlings are a little on the pudgy side) and checked her eyelids using the Famacha method to get a sense of parasite load.

The facility worked great!  It seemed to be intuitive for them.  They moved through with ease.  In the past, I have had trouble getting each sheep to step up onto the scale because the surface is different and they are concerned about their footing.  But, in this arrangement, they see that by moving forward, they are moving closer to exiting the chute and so they stepped up for their turn without any trepidation.

The chute is a bit wide.  18″ is recommended, but my scale is 20″ and the hog panels have verticals on 8″ centers, so I had to go with a 24″ wide gate.  Because the chute is a little too wide, the sheep were able to turn around and squeeze past one another.  But, I was able to easily advance one sheep at a time with the guillotine lift gates.  And, with repeated runs through the chute each time we “practice” with subsequent uses of the chute for shearing, vaccinating, etc. my flock will become more accustomed to it.

What a wonderful thing to have checked off my ‘get organized’ to do list!

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Filed under Farm, Getting Organized, Livestock Handling, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Sheep

Getting Organized…Hopefully…Yes!

This late winter/early spring has been sort of a perfect storm of get organized messages for me.

First, I moved everything out of my office in order for Chris and I to install new cork flooring there to cover up the rough attic planking that exists there.  I have vowed to go through everything and only put back what I truly need.  Now, this is a major hurdle because I am very likely to look at everything and think I might find a use for it someday.  I have, however, recycled a huge stack of paper, designated a bunch of useful stuff to go to St. Vinnies and found deserving homes for several other items.  Some things were beyond any useful life and did wind up in the trash.  And, a few pounds of dust bunnies were removed before the new floor went in.  Later this week or early next week I will begin the slow process of cleaning each item and setting it in a well thought out location in my refurbished office space.

In the meantime, I attended the MOSES Organic Conference in La Crosse, WI.  With my radar set to organize mode, I was bombarded with ideas to do just that.  I attended a pre-conference Organic University taught by Chris Blanchard of the Purple Pitchfork called Managing your way to Farm Success.  This course was a goldmine of worthwhile information about getting organized.  I came home with resolutions to get an annual inventory up and running (I’m well on my way to completion!) and to close open loops (the gates are repaired, tools are hanging close at hand in the hoophouse, and more) of nearly completed projects that can’t yet be checked of the checklist and get in the way physically and mentally.

On the suggested reading list for virtually every session I attended at the Organic Conference were the following: The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work by Ben Hartman and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®  by Stephen R. Covey.  The first one is a new book, but the second one is a surprise because it has been around for over 25 years.  It indicates to me that small scale organic farming has matured of late to a point where the how-to’s of growing are pretty well mastered and therefore farmers are taking a closer look at management and organization.

I borrowed The Lean Farm from the library and devoured it.  It fed perfectly into all the organizational thinking I had already been doing.  The principles behind the lean system were developed in the automotive industry by Toyota.  Ben Hartman has taken the concepts and translated them into the world of small sustainable farms.  And they make so much sense to me!  Basically the lean system roots out waste (labor, resource, etc.) to improve efficiencies.

Examining my own farm for areas where I spend a lot of time without gaining any value (sadly a long, long list), I decided to start by tackling my weedy garden paths and by creating a sheep handling area that could stay in place at all times.

I have been trying and failing to manage the weeds in my garden paths by laying down newspaper and covering it with mulch.  I spend time on it every year and never get all the way around the garden.  Therefore, I’m perpetually allowing weeds to go to seed and to spread by roots and rhizomes and this adds to the work year on year.  I have a friend who has had in place a type of landscape fabric that acts as a weed barrier and is also designed to withstand UV exposure.  I spoke with her to get advice on how to install the material to get the most from it.  I’m going to prepare a level substrate with gravel covered by a thin layer of sand and will avoid puncturing the fabric wherever possible by lapping it up onto my wooden raised beds and using batten strips to hold it in place.  I’m trying to avoid using mulch on top of the fabric because it always catches seeds and provides welcoming habitat for new weeds to germinate.  This fabric can’t be considered a permanent solution (even concrete isn’t permanent), but it should make my weed management system vastly more efficient with a relatively low cash and labor outlay.

There is a corner of our barn that can easily be retrofitted for a sheep handling area.  I’ve been researching sheep handling system designs and got good ideas from Use Sheep Behaviour to Your Advantage When Designing Handling Facilities, Sheep 201 and North Dakota State University Sheep Building Plans.  Rather than invest a great deal of money in panels and gates initially, I’m starting by using hog panels cut to length for chutes, gates, etc.  That way, I can try out the system and see if it works or not.  Later on, I’ll add specially made equipment where it adds the most to the efficiency of the system.

I have just started reading Covey’s book.  I’m certain that principles he writes about will add depth to the paradigm shifts that started for me this winter.  I know “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, but I’m happy to have this new lean farm lens to examine all my farming activities and decisions through.

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What a Good Idea!

Communal Meat Lockers Could Help Scale Up Sustainable Meat

Once a prevalent adjunct to butcher shops, community meat storage spaces in upstate New York are supporting farmers and making meat more affordable.

Look no further than the local food movement to find history repeating itself. Food preservation, root cellars, seed saving, and other “old-fashioned” practices are being reinvigorated all over the country, proving that good ideas have lasting power.

Now the meat locker is making a comeback, thawing out after a long, deep freeze since its heyday in the 1940s. Continue reading

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…Repurpose

And, note to self, refrain from breaking in the first place!

I used to have a lovely blue farmers market canopy with an aluminum structure that folded up compactly and was light and easy to set up.  It was great for shade, and did work in a light rain, but wasn’t water proof and tended to weep as it got wetter.

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Phillips Farmers Market, July 2007

Some of you may recognize the young entrepreneur set up next to me.  My young friend Travis looks much more grown up these days.

One day, I set up at Knox Creek Heritage Center for an event and a number of friends joined me in the shelter of this canopy.  We were demonstrating spinning and quilting, etc. and enjoying a good visit.  It began to rain, then a wind got started.  I added a tarp on the windy side and we shuffled into a smaller circle under the canopy.  Then the wind really got going with the tarp acting as a sail and I secured it to the back of the truck.

We were prepared to wait out the weather, but then the gale really got going and attendees began to scatter.  One of the event organizers came running to me, out of breath, and asked me to move the truck to clear an access path for other vehicles.  I jumped up, started the truck and peered every which way, fearful that I would hit someone and deafened by the torrential rain.

My friends sheltering inside the canopy were shouting and screaming for me to stop, but I couldn’t hear them.  In my haste to help clear the way, I had completely forgotten about the tethers to the truck.  The aluminum supports were bent beyond repair.

I do hate to toss out anything that has any useful life left in it.  And so, I have held onto that fabric and the aluminum structure.  In 2011, our wonderful farm intern, Martha, cut several squares from the blue fabric to fashion curtains for nest boxes for our hens.

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Scout and Sophie taking a break

Last year, I used a chunk of that blue fabric to recover Scout’s winter coat, which had gotten shabby.

And just this fall, I gave up struggling with the one size too large sheep coats I had put on my 3 lambs who will be joining the breeding flock.  I sewed new smaller ones for them from some more of that blue fabric.

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A Coopworth ewe lamb modeling her well fitting coat

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Flax the CVM wether was between sizes in my coat inventory as well

In the meantime, my husband Chris kept looking at that aluminum structure and thinking there must be a better use for it than cashing it in for scrap.  Last year he made himself a boot shelf in his coat closet using some of the aluminum sections as a rack and just this week I have one in mine!

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My closet – all dolled up for picture day

This addition was a good excuse to give the closet a good wipe down and evaluate which items should be moved on to new owners due to disuse and which were beyond using any longer.

BTW: Coats for sheep are intended to keep their wool clean, rather than to keep them warm – the wool does that.  For those not finding themselves with an old canopy to cut up, or less motivated to sew, I highly recommend Rocky Sheep Company as a friendly source for extremely durable, well designed sheep covers.

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