Voices in Wool features conversations with people around the world whose lives touch, and are touched by, wool. Hosted by New York Times-bestselling author Clara Parkes and made possible by members of The Wool Channel.
Shop to Sheep to Skein to School: Anna Hunter's Canadian Wool Odyssey
In this episode, Clara talks with Canadian wool advocate, fiber farmer, and mill owner Anna Hunter of Long Way Homestead.
Until a few years ago, Anna was happily ensconced in East Vancouver running a yarn store. But in 2015, the country beckoned. She and her husband Luke moved to Eastern Manitoba to start a family and a farm.
When she discovered there was no local mill to process her freshly shorn Shetland fleeces, she decided to build a mill herself.
Now Anna is sharing everything she learned with the next generation of wool people through her Field School. And very soon, she'll be bringing domestically sourced and manufactured wool pellets to Manitoba.
As you'll hear, Anna's goal is far larger than just her own sheep and skeins and pellets. She wants to revolutionize and revitalize the Canadian wool industry as we know it.
In the interview, we talked about Anna's life trajectory from urban yarn store owner to rural farmer, the challenges and costs (both financial and human) of starting a wool processing mill, the current limitations of the Canadian wool industry, the possibilities for the future, and her ultimate vision for a thriving regenerative textile infrastructure in Canada.
Read, explore, and shop at Long Way HomesteadSupport Anna's Canadian wool research and advocacy work on PatreonVisit Anna's other project, Canadianwool.org
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From Broadway Divas to Shameless Escape Artists: Shepherds and their Favorite Sheep
It takes a special kind of person to choose a life with sheep. It's not easy. It's not glamorous. It's not the kind of career path that comes with stock options or a private jet.
It comes with something even better: Sheep.
Spend any significant amount of time with sheep and you're bound to form friendships, attachments, connections.
In this episode, we hear stories about favorite sheep. Whether they're from a shepherd or a daughter of a shepherd, the stories run the gamut—from a little lamb who appeared off Broadway to an escape artist who likes to brag about it.
What I love about these stories is that they don't just show how remarkable and just plain fun sheep can be. They also reveal a lot about the shepherds themselves, about just what kind of person dedicates his or her life to making sure that sheep have good lives too.
The voices, in order of their first appearance, are those of:
Siri Swanson, Yankee Rock Farm
Sara Dunham, the Crazy Sheep Lady
Rachel Atkinson, Daughter of a Shepherd
Theresa Walker, Great Bay Wool Works at Liberty Hall Farm
Kathy Oliver, Sweet Tree Hill Farm
Jennifer Kouvant, Six Dutchess Farm
Jennie Watkins, Ananda Hills Farm
Schuyler Beeman, Arbor Farm
Dominique Herman, Catskill Merino
- Music provided under license from Storyblocks -
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Autumn on the Hudson: Clara Reads from Knitlandia
In honor of this being New York Sheep and Wool Festival weekend in Rhinebeck, New York, this episode's voice in wool is Clara herself. So make yourself a cup of tea and enjoy story time as she reads the New York Sheep and Wool Festival chapter from her New York Times bestseller, Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World.
This is a special Voices in Wool episode intended for members of The Wool Channel. Click here to join the party.
For copyright reasons, I regret that there is no audio transcript of this recording.
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Healing the Planet One Wool Sponge at a Time: A Conversation with Marie Hoff
What could washing your breakfast dishes and preventing wildfires possibly have in common?
Marie Hoff may be able to help with that question.
In 2013, she took on a small flock of ouessant sheep and launched Cappella Grazing in Sonoma County. Her clients were mainly vineyards, orchards, farms, and private land owners who wanted a quieter, more efficient form of a lawnmower. But it soon became apparent that her flock was serving another more urgent need: reducing fuel loads to prevent wildfires.
Using ruminants as part of a wildfire mitigation program is not new. Nor is using them to graze vineyards and orchards. It’s been a common practice in Europe for centuries, and grazing animals have been part of a much larger environmental cycle for, well, thousands of years. Sheep do this all while fertilizing the soil, reducing invasive weeds, and eventually, helping restore grasslands.
As her flock returned to the same plots of land year after year, Marie saw firsthand just how powerfully effective targeted grazing could be as part of a regenerative agriculture scheme. And she met others who were doing it on a much larger scale.
It was about this time that she noticed a problem. All these farmers were doing great things with their flocks. Yet every year at shearing time, all the wool got thrown away for lack of a market.
And so, Marie decided to step into the gap, buy the wool, and try to make something out of it. She folded Cappella Grazing into a new venture called Full Circle Wool.
Which is where your and my breakfast dishes come into play.
Full Circle Wool: https://www.fullcirclewool.com
Fibershed's Climate-Beneficial Wool program: https://fibershed.org/climate-beneficial-wool/
A full transcript of this episode can be found here: https://www.thewoolchannel.com/viw-s1-e4
Photo Credit: Alycia Lang
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She Tortures Wool for a Living: Meet the Woman Helping Revive Commercial Wool Testing in the US
In 2020, the American wool industry lost an extremely important link in its production chain when the Yocom-McColl wool testing lab closed. That lab had been in operation for more than 50 years. And by the time it closed, it was our only remaining commercial wool testing lab in the country.
Why does this matter?
Because any kind of trade, whether it’s buying or selling of wool, requires accurate commercial measurements to know what you’re buying or selling. Testing for things like cleanliness. How much dirt is in this wool. How greasy is it? How fine is it? How great a variation is there between the finest and the roughest fibers? What am I really getting?
These are all important things to know because wool comes off a living, breathing animal. It doesn’t come out of a spigot, it’s not out of a test tube. It’s not an easily controlled substance, and there’s lots of variation.
When Yocom-McColl closed, American producers had to send their samples to New Zealand for testing. And while New Zealand has some extraordinary facilities for testing wool, and they can do it very quickly, they’re in New Zealand. Which is a long distance for wool to travel on a routine basis from the United States.
It would be easy to add this to the list of tragedies to befall the American wool industry, to point to it as another sign that everything is disappearing, but that’s not actually the case. Before Yocom-McColl even closed, industry stakeholders began working on a plan.
What’s involved in setting up a commercial wool testing lab anyway? What kind of equipment do you need, what barriers might you face, and why does any of this matter?
My guest today has very fresh experience trying to answer these questions. Dr. Dawn Brown is an obstetrician turned angora goat and sheep farmer turned mill owner who has recently stepped into what she calls a “bucket list” job opportunity. She is the manager of the new commercial wool testing lab that’s being added onto the Bill Sims Wool & Mohair Research Laboratory at Texas A&M’s Agrilife Research and Extension Center in San Angelo, Texas.
And by January 2022, the lab is set to be up and running. It will join the April, 2021 newcomer Wasatch Wool Laboratories in Midvale, Utah. The United States will go from no commercial wool testing to two labs.
We discuss how the lab in San Angelo came about, what she does at the lab (hint: it involves destroying lots of wool), how she managed to get $400,000 worth of equipment to Texas from Australia, and what her hopes are for the future—not only of the lab and wool testing but of wool in general.
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Lior Patel: The Drone Photographer who Spied on Sheep from Above
Today's voice in wool never set out to be a voice in wool. In fact, he doesn't say a word about wool at all. His interest—and quite an infectious one at that—is in the sheep themselves, how they move and navigate both the natural terrain and one another.
In this episode, Clara talks with Lior Patel, a 42-year-old professional drone photographer from Haifa, Israel, who spent seven months observing a megaflock of more than 1,000 sheep from the sky. His time-lapse video of the flock in motion, which he threw up on social media just for a few photographer friends, has become a viral sensation.
Clara finds out what drove him to the project in the first place. Why sheep? What did he learn from them? And what can we learn from them too?
Their conversation blossoms into a much bigger discussion about life itself—about keeping balance and perspective and holding onto the creative spark when turning one's passion into one's profession. They also talk about the fleeting nature of Internet "stardom," about how he's using the publicity to bring more attention to farmers, and about the opportunities that this video has brought him—and why he turned down a chance to profit financially from the project.
Along the way, Lior shares some uncanny observations about sheep as a collective society, and how much we can learn from them.
Find Lior Patel on Instagram at instagram.com/liorpatel
View his other drone work on his website, Bravo Zulu Aerials
For a full transcript, go to thewoolchannel.com/voices-s1-e2
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Loving it. Always interested in learning more fiber stuff.
I have a couple of Clara’s books. I figured that since the books have been great, that the podcast will be great too. You know what? It is!
Educational, inspirational and motivational. This podcast is a voice of revelation, sanity and comfort. Not just for knitters. Elevating voices of those vested in wool and its industry, economy and artistry. Founding Flock members receive special content and sometimes EWE-sful discounts! Clara does it again. A truly outstanding work.
Loved learning about the Swiss shepherdess. So interesting and amazing!