It’s the third week of October and I’m keeping the Weaving & Spinning
Week Month celebration going! How else? With a trip to the farm, of course!
Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon on a farm in Allegan, Michigan. The purpose of the excursion was to visit the Natural Cycles Farm, owned by Lori and Pete. They are members of a group called the Great Lakes Fibershed, which I joined about 6 months ago when I met the fabulous natural dyeing ladies from Color Wheel Michigan. Amanda, Lauren, and Michelle are the women who make up Color Wheel Michigan, and are also the contact people for the Great Lakes Fibershed. (You know, a diagram or chart of some kind may have been the better way to go here. I didn’t mean for the explanation to be so convoluted! Basically, Amanda from Color Wheel invited me to go to a farm and I went! Ta-da!!)
The Great Lakes Fibershed’s mission is to bring together all the folks involved in the fiber process (producers, mills, dyers, artisans, and enthusiasts) in an effort to, “unify local resources and promote environmentally sustainable practices”. The Great Lakes branch covers 250 miles in any direction from Detroit (I barely squeezed in!). So Sunday was a planned outing for the western members, graciously sponsored by Lori & Pete at the farm.
It was a perfect fall day for it! 60 degrees, the colorful leaves, blue sky – an A+ day for a road trip! The farm sits on about 36 acres not too far from Kalamazoo and boy, it is some beautiful land! It has that lush rolling hill backdrop that a lot of Michigan is known for. Lori & Pete haven’t been here long, but have thoughtfully set up the farm with natural materials and processes in place. It was fascinating to hear them talk about how they intentionally move the sheep around with the purpose of keeping both the sheep and the land healthy. Apparently, the farmers who owned the acreage before them didn’t use a lot of chemicals. So they inherited land that was in pretty good shape to start.
(I’m diverting from the plan here – total non-fiber sidebar! Lori & Pete have gardens on the farm and while I was there, I tried a new berry (new for me) – it’s called a serviceberry! Have you every heard of this? It tastes like a cross between a blueberry and a cranberry. It’s ready in early spring and apparently it’s a humdinger to harvest! There are a lot of critters that enjoy them and they aren’t the easiest to get off the tree. But, I tried them in a pie and they were delicious! Who knew? And now, back to fiber-related stuff!)
Not only did we get to see many animals (many of them wool-producing – yay!), we also had the opportunity to interact with each other. We were a small bunch – about 8 of us. Most folks drove at least an hour to attend. And it was such a fabulously diverse group! For instance, I spent some time getting to know Rick from Hoof-To-Hanger in Bridgman, Michigan. Bridgman is only 45 minutes from my house and Hoof-To-Hanger is a working fiber mill! How awesome is that? He talked about the fiber mill business, the significance of the building they are in (it’s an old Ben Franklin that his family owned!), and what sets them apart from other fiber processing experiences (fabulous customer service is the answer here!). So interesting!
I also got to chat more with Amanda and Michelle from Color Wheel. I first met the ladies through POST in Detroit last spring and we’ve connected a few times since then. But because Detroit and Chesterton, IN aren’t exactly neighbors, I haven’t had a lot of one-on-one time thus far. So it was very cool to hear them talk about the natural dyeing process, what plants and materials can be used, as well as a lot of very technical talk which I quickly lost track of. It is quite fascinating to listen to (2) dyers talk shop! And I thought weaving sounded like a foreign language! Wow!
Mary was another member who joined us. She was well-versed in a variety of different techniques, including dyeing, spinning and knitting. So she did a much better job of keeping up with the dyeing conversation than I did! (p.s. Mary said she has a box of neckties I can use for my next project, so she’s instantly my new best friend! Thanks, Mary!)
The entire experience was a fabulous reminder of the fiber basics, combined with thoughtful conversation about how we proceed as amazing fiber people while still being kind to the earth and the animals who provide for us! On any given day, I don’t typically give a lot of thought to how the yarn got to be in my shuttle. But, I can honestly say that after this adventure, I will definitely be more aware of the entire process from Natural Cycles Farm, to Hoof-to-Hanger Mill, to Color Wheel Michigan, to my loom!