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Slow wool in the fast economy

Yesterday I received a year’s work in a box. The wool sheared from our flock of Tunis sheep was shipped to the fiber mill in May. After months of anticipation, it finally arrived, along with several bags of roving.

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Yarn from Jo-Julie, processed by family-owned Round Barn Fiber Mill in December 2018. Yarn is now available in the farm’s Etsy store.

As I gently removed each bag of fiber, tagged with the name of each sheep that it came from, I thought about the delayed satisfaction inherent in farming. Coming from a teaching background, this isn’t a new concept to me. You plant the seed and it may be years before you see the tree bear fruit. In some cases, you never see it, but you have faith that the love and effort that you gave will somehow blossom into something.

As a fiber farmer, my year both begins and ends on shearing day. I take great care when shearing; the last thing that I want to do is hurt the sheep (which generally means that I end up with few bandaids), and I want to make sure that the wool is removed quickly and in the condition preferred by handspinners and fiber mills. It is no easy task, but I enjoy the process nonetheless.

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After shearing and skirting, some of my fiber addled friends purchase the fleeces raw, preferring to wash, card, and process the fiber themselves. I have tremendous respect for these people (you should too– they have the patience of Job and the skills of MacGuyver), and love to connect them with the sheep that provided their fleeces.

Fleeces are then sent off to the mill to be processed into finished goods. In my case, I have some processed into roving and some processed into yarn. Some mills are able to create socks, hats, blankets, and other finished items from shepherds’ yarns, but that requires a LOT of fiber and sometimes they need to blend it with other folks’ fiber to make it work.

Before I became a shepherd, I hung out with as many fiber producers as I could. All were gracious with their time and experience; most discouraged me from starting a flock if my intention was to make any money at all. The number of shepherds who keep wool sheep continues to decline as the market for domestic wool is overtaken by imported wool. Correspondingly, the number of woolen mills in the US continues to decline, and it’s becoming more difficult for wool producers to provide American consumers with American wool. Indeed, Woolrich, an iconic woolen mill in aptly-named Woolrich, Pennsylvania, recently announced its closure, dealing yet another blow to domestic wool production.

https://wnep.com/2018/11/01/people-sad-to-hear-woolrich-inc-woolen-mill-to-close-by-years-end/

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Woolrich Inc.,will be merging and moving operations. America’s oldest outdoor clothing company will become Woolrich International with its headquarters in London. Dan Gleiter |

When announcing the closure of Woolrich, the investment group cited the desire of the American public to purchase inexpensive wool, suggesting that Americans do not value high quality, well-made American products. (Had they read many of the comments by heartbroken, mulit-generation Woolrich shoppers, they may have reconsidered that opinion.)

None of these macroeconomic issues were on my mind when my package came, though. Carefully examining the yarn, I thought about the countless hours I put in to make that one skein possible. Feeding, hoof trimming, moving fence, (Ben building ever more fence), checking teeth, shearing, watering, hauling water in the snow… How can one assign a price to such a thing? How can I possibly assign worth and value to it?

Wool from small farmers represents a year’s worth of sweat equity. Many hands play a role in the making of sweaters, socks, hats– from the shepherds to the mill workers. As Americans have slowly begun to embrace the concept of slow food– the deliberate and careful consumption of food, with respect to growing practices and support of local sustainable growers– we would be wise to consider slow wool. Support your local shepherds. Hug a lamb or two. Refute the misinformation campaign against wool, and if you don’t know how your socks came to be, commit to learning. Vote with your dollars. Your fellow sheep-tending and mill working Americans will appreciate it.

-Charis

 

 

 

 

A big thank you to our customers, changes to the web store, and fall lamb.

Friends,

We can’t thank you enough for your support! These last few weeks have found us vending at local events, participating in educational fairs, and readying the farm for  fall/winter. Ben has been busy in the maple season, adding lines and expanding the maple woods for increased production. The rams are in with the ewes and we look forward to mid-March/early April lambs. June the Galloway heifer is growing and hardly looks like the baby calf of just a few short months ago.

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June the Galloway heifer calf, October 2018

 

The weather and seasons aren’t the only things changing at Tarheelbilly Farm! This November we will transition our website store to Etsy. Selling on Etsy will allow us to offer more items and ship them at a reasonable cost.  Items are still available locally for pickup/arrangement, so that hasn’t changed! In the meantime, we still have your favorite items available for purchase, so please shoot us an email if you are in need of soap, roving, dryer balls, or any of your other favorite items.

As artisan crafters, we are busy building/making/creating year round. Demand for some of our items increases dramatically over the holidays. As such, we are currently making holiday crafts, so our felt/wool ornaments, hand-knit and woven items, specialty soaps, and Ben’s beautiful handmade wooden boxes will be available soon. If there is something special you are looking for to give for the holidays, please contact us!

Finally, several folks have expressed interest in our grassfed, hormone free lamb. Please contact us via email or Facebook message if you are interested in purchasing a half or whole lamb. Price for a whole lamb is $7.50 lb (hanging weight plus butcher bill) and a half is $8.00 lb (hanging weight plus butcher bill).

Our sweet potato harvest was quite a success this year! Please let us know if you are interested in our organic Beauregard sweet potatoes. 5 lbs $1.50 lb ($7.50 bag)
10 lbs $1.25 lb ($12.50 bag)

 

Thank you so much for supporting local farmers. We appreciate you!

-Charis and Ben

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall 2018 Events

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All crafts are handmade! Knit pumpkins and decorations are filled with Tunis fiber from our flock. The soaps are made with milk from our does. The salves contain plants sustainably wild-crafted here on the farm. Thank you for supporting small farms and artisans!

We have been busy preparing for craft fairs, holiday gifts, and the upcoming maple season! Ben recently attended the West Virginia University Maple Seminar in Summersville, WV and is looking forward to increased production in the maple woods this year. Delaney has harvested many of her pumpkins and has been busy selling them in Aid. Additionally, we are scheduled to vend at the Ironton Farmer’s market Fridays in October. At the Ironton market, we will also have fall crafts, sweet potatoes, and baked goods. Thank you for your continued support of Tarheelbilly Farm!

Upcoming Events

Saturday and Sunday, September 29-30 Noble Family Farm Craft Fair Minford, Ohio

Friday, October 12 Ironton Farmer’s Market

Friday, October 19 Ironton Farmer’s Market

Saturday, October 20 Lawrence County Farm Bureau Down on the Farm Event. (Admission is free) Located at the Lawrence County Ohio Fairgrounds, Proctorville, Ohio 10-3

Friday, October 26 Ironton Farmer’s Market

Saturday, November 3 Appalachian Farm Festival at Heritage Farm in Huntington, WV

Saturday, November 17 Fundraiser Craft and Vendor Fair Ashland, Kentucky (details TBA)

 

 

The light in August

I spend a great deal of time observing. Being able to recognize subtle changes is immensely important as a farmer. Something as inauspicious as a ewe standing off to herself may indicate sickness. A brown spot on the leaf of a tomato plant may foretell the beginning stages of blight or may indicate a mineral deficiency. Farmers of old created sayings to help them navigate the natural world in the absence of Google, plant specialists, and organic growing guides. A lot of that passed-on knowledge has been lost. A lot of what we do on our farm is try to reclaim some of that knowledge, holding on to it as long as we can. Sometimes it seems that is the most important thing, to hold on.

This time of the year, the garden is in full throttle. We preserving what we can, sell a bit to others, and plan for the inevitable onset of fall. Somehow, just these few tasks takes up most of our time. Everything seems both ridiculously fast and terribly slow; tomato after tomato comes off the vine, while conditions conducive to baling hay are dubious any given day. It becomes difficult to plan the to-do list on most days. One adjusts based on the availability of resources. What HAS to be done today? What can wait until tomorrow? These guiding questions force us to both live in the moment and plan for what will be needed months from now.

Of course, a lot of the ebb and flow of farm days seems mysterious, if not bucolic, to many non-farming people. Tedium replaces novelty after milking every day for weeks. Vine ripened tomatoes are a sweet blessing at the beginning of the season, but counters overflowing with them translates into counters seemingly overrun with tomatoes in various stages of processing, sinks filled to overflowing with the accessories of canning. Beautiful shelves lined with jars of home-canned sauce, pickles, and beans represents countless hours of repetition, solitude, and hard work.

While much of the work of late summer is relegated to the garden and kitchen, the livestock are busy with the business of grazing. The sheep, shorn in early spring, resemble grubs as they move across the fields. This is a potentially dangerous time of the year for them. Aside from the ever-present danger of coyotes and feral dogs, parasites thrive in hot, humid weather. Sheep on pasture must be checked periodically to ensure they are not overburdened with parasites. Lambs are especially vulnerable to them, having not built a tolerance to them yet. Every day our mornings break with a thick fog that only releases its hold after several hours, and every day I observe the sheep to make sure none of them is too thin, not eating, or otherwise showing signs of ill health. Despite the challenges, I take time to notice the beauty in every daybreak, and there’s nothing like watching the sheep and cows graze, enshrouded in clouds each morning.IMG_3278

As the day moves on, it is hard not to notice that the trajectory of the sun over the pastures has changed. The shadows over the garden are longer in the evening and linger later in the morning. Even though it is early August, the chlorophyll in the trees are releasing their hold; the greens have lost their depth. Gone is the shiny, brilliant kelley green of spring; in its place  is a dull, lusterless hue. Soon enough even that green will give way to the brilliant colors of fall. We will be grateful for the changes but sad to see the green go. Winter was long last year.

 

A leisurely withdrawal to tranquility,
The sun, she descends.
Signifying an end,
Yet also a beginning –
New start, new change, new opportunity.Gaze upon the sky spread before you like a canvas.
Mother Nature hand-paints tinges of each hue,
Mellow watercolours from periwinkle to scarlet.
Each day an ever-changing embodiment of her aptitude,
A fresh spectacle of allure.

(exerpt from Halflight, by Leah Kathryn)

 

 

The challenges of shopping locally in the age of E.Coli eggs and scary lettuce

The recent E.Coli outbreak effecting eggs, lettuce, and ground beef highlight how important it is to shop locally and to know where the food on your plate comes from. The truth is, it’s not always easy to secure all of the food your family eats from your local community.

As farmers, my family spends a great deal of time in the garden and fields planting cover crops, spreading manure from our animals (in lieu of using chemical fertilizers), and implementing various permaculture principles on our farm. In this way, we are able to raise a great deal of our food. We started our rotationally-grazed Galloway herd to fulfill our desire of eating pasture raised beef. We are able to eat eggs from free range chickens. I humbly acknowledge that we are indeed blessed and fortunate enough to have the space needed to grow and raise a lot of our food. This is a are blessing that not everyone is afforded nor inclined to undertake.

Having lived in several major cities as an adult, I am keenly aware of how difficult it can be to find local food raised in keeping with ones values. Some cities make connecting with farmers pretty easy; I have lived in fairly large cities that maintain robust, vibrant markets. Farmers come from hours away to set up there and command prices that allow them to make a good living from the farm. However, I have lived in other communities where farmers’ markets were either inaccessible or consisted largely of resellers– folks who purchased produce from produce markets where food is from everywhere, and simply resold them to the public at the market.

So where does that leave the average consumer? Well, honestly, it makes “shopping locally” a challenge. Few would disagree with the need to support family farms, but folks have to feed their families, regardless of where that food comes from. Some communities struggle with food insecurity, food deserts, and lack of transportation to even get to markets. Many families struggle with the cost of food, and though they would like to purchase more fresh produce from local farmers, the budget may not allow for that. Additionally, many farmers markets across the country now accept EBT/debit/credit cards, but individual farmers may not be set up to do so. Many rural communities lack sufficient wireless infrastructure to be able to even add these payment options.

In addition to those socio-cultural challenges, there are real supply chain and natural impediments that also make it difficult for the the average consumer to eat locally. While grocery stores/box chains are dealing with the fallout of potentially contaminated food, farmers across the country are dealing with the aftermath of our long, protracted winter.

Farmers across the country have altered or delayed their planting schedules. Even cold-tolerant plants have been thrown off a bit by the conditions.  My Southern farming friends have not been immune-  many farmers markets have delayed their openings since so few vegetables are currently ready for harvest.

So please be patient with your local farmers. There is no part of our food system that is immune to the reach and whim of mother nature or other outside forces, whether you shop at your local farmers market or stop by the farm stand down the road from your house!

-CW

Spring has arrived on the farm

 

After a seemingly endless winter, spring has finally arrived on the farm.  Maple season ended after a stretch of warm weather; the sap changed from clear to opaque, signaling the tree’s anticipation of warmer weather.

Ben has been busy finishing up a fencing project. Proper fences require ongoing maintenance and repair.  IMG_3898

Our chickens grew weary of the cold, wet weather, but were happy for the longer days. Their egg production increased markedly in March, and we occasionally find our free range eggs in rather strange places.

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PB finds a new place to lay

The pasture is starting to awaken and the livestock are happy to have fresh grass to graze after a steady diet of hay, haylage, and alfalfa pellets. We are happy for the arrival of violets. We make jelly from those pretty little purple flowers.

 

The perennials are finally starting to return. We love our asparagus around here. There is something magical about those pretty green spears appearing overnight. Sauteed or lightly roasted in butter or bacon drippings, the taste of fresh asparagus is simply unmatched.

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Spring signals the beginning of our lambing season. The red Tunis lambs are a stark contrast against the green grass. They don’t remain red for long, their white/cream fleeces begin to overtake the soft red hair after a week or two.

 

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Jewelweed

Many of our favorite plants are wild annuals and perennials that we forage. We spend time walking the woods to locate useful plants that we use for our family and the livestock.  Certain birds, insects, and reptiles are indicator species to determine when it’s warm enough for us garden in earnest. Gold finches, bullfrogs, and grasshoppers have all made their presence known over the past week.

The bees are happy for the warmer weather, too. Our hives are active daily now, harvesting pollen from dandelions, wildflowers, and the many fruit trees that are now in bloom.

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Many of our friend and family across the country are still struggling with cold temperatures. While we’re not quite out of the woods yet, it is encouraging to see the signs of spring on the farm.

-CW

 

Maple recipes part 2: Maple granola

With the first official boil in the books, we’re now busy replenishing our maple stores for the year. We use a LOT of maple syrup and honey at our house, primarily because we don’t use artificial sweeteners. We stopped buying processed cereal years ago and replaced it with granola. We eat granola with milk for breakfast or as a simple snack.

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Granola– a healthy breakfast and snack option.

This recipe is pretty versatile– we typically add whatever we have on hand and don’t worry about it too much.

Maple Granola

  • 3 cups rolled oats (NOT the instant kind)
  • 1 cup raisins (or dried cranberries or blueberries– you get the picture!)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup black walnuts (or whatever kind of nuts you like– almonds are great, too!)
  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup pure maple Syrup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 1 dash salt

Preheat oven to 250ºF.

In a large bowl, stir to combine rolled oats,  walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and coconut flakes. In a separate bowl, stir to combine maple syrup, brown sugar, oil, and salt. Pour wet ingredients over the oats, and mix well.

Pour the granola onto a rimmed sheet pan and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring halfway through the baking process. The granola is done cooking when it turns medium brown, so your cooking time may vary a bit. Let the granola cool completely then store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. (It NEVER lasts that long at our house.) This recipe can be doubled if you want to make more.

Happy baking!

(Adapted from Homemade Pantry and Food to Live By)