White Violet Center is responsible for nearly 1200 acres of crop land, woodland and lakes. Presently we have nearly 400 acres of classified forest, 400 acres of crop land and three spring fed lakes. The rest of the land is used for facilities for the Sisters of Providence and St Mary of the Woods College. Corn, soybeans, oats, wheat, rye and alfalfa hay are the main crops. Alpacas were placed on the land four years ago in an attempt to put environmentally friendly animals on our land. From the original three animals we now have a herd of 25. We sell breeding stock and utilize fiber from these animals. They are used as therapy animals as well.
Our land has been entirely certified organic for the past three years. We run and CSA, composting project, and greenhouse. We are involved in wetland and forest restoration on our land as well.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The objective of this project is to research the feasibility of processing White Violet Farm Alpaca fiber, as well as that of other Midwest Alpaca breeders, in a way that will impact the economic environment of the West Terre Haute, Indiana area, providing marketable fiber skills to local unemployment or underemployment persons in this community. The area of west central Indiana in which we live is economically depressed, and has been for many years. Unemployment and underemployment in the rural community here and in the small towns surrounding White Violet Center is high. For many area residents, basic education and/or marketable off farm skills are lacking. At the same time, there are many breeders in the growing Alpaca industry who would like local alternatives to the national co-op to process their fiber. Many persons have become breeders to bring value added income to their farms through breeding and fiber production. At this time there seems to be few, if any, options available in our state that would bring these two groups together. We hope to thoroughly research the possibilities of a project that would benefit both groups and in the process provide many opportunities to educate around natural fiber production, local fiber processing in enhance local community development, and marketing strategies to enhance natural fiber markets.
Initially we gathered together all persons we felt could contribute information and/or assistance in reaching our goals. We met with our own Advisory Council members, Sisters of Providence, personnel from St Mary of the Woods College, local service agencies working with the disadvantaged and WVC staff. We developed a plan of action that included:
– Developing fiber skills ourselves in collaboration with local spinners and weavers to assess how realistically we could learn and teach such skills ourselves.
– Meeting with Indiana Alpaca breeders to assess their willingness to put fiber into such a project.
– Meeting with Sisters of Providence to assess issues of space, personnel, cost, legal issues, tax issues, etc.
– Acquiring equipment needed to begin this project: spinning wheels and accessories, looms and other weaving equipment, fiber, etc.
– Researching fiber co-ops, mills and fiber sales companies around the country to learn from their operations.
– Assessing the desire of local women (and men) to be involved in such a project.
We believe that this project has been highly successful. Ten Sisters of Providence, as well as five staff members and friends, have given at least two to five hours a week for the past eighteen months to learn the skills of spinning, weaving and knitting. The grant allowed us to have teachers of fiber arts come to us and assist us in learning these skills. We were able to travel to successful fiber mills such as the Vermont Fiber Co, Ohio Valley Fiber, and small family operations in the Midwest. We were able with funding from this grant, as well as other grant sources, to purchase eight spinning wheels and four looms which are in constant use. Local agencies such as Catholic Charities, the Connecting Link in W. Terre Haute, and Providence Self-sufficiency Ministries have given us valuable input from their clients about the feasibility of local men and women being involved in such a project. This project has provided us with information on which to base a decision on a long term fiber project funded by the Sisters of Providence and other granters. Decisions on this will be made in spring of 2002.
We learned from this grant that we really could learn skills and teach them to other people. We learned that there is a growing market for garments made from Alpaca fiber because of its incredible softness, warmth, strength and durability. We now know that other Alpaca breeders are interested in sharing fiber with us for this project as an alternative to sending fiber out of the country to be processed. We now know that there are local women who see this as a wonderful option for furthering their lives. We will begin teaching five area women in the next few weeks. We have been amazed at the generosity of spinners and weavers in our area who have been willing to work with us and support us in this project at it moves in to the future. We also know that the financing of this project will be a major concern. It is estimated that the startup costs for processing and use of fiber will be in the neighborhood of $200,000. Space is a difficult issue, as well. We continue to look at options in that area. We now know that locally produced, high quality, one of a kind garments from our own animals will sell themselves. We cannot begin to keep up for requests for the hand spun, hand knit, or hand woven items. We continue to see this diversification of our farming operation as a viable tool for our success and one that has the potential to make a positive impact on our local economy.
Information from this project could be shared with Alpaca producers through communications such as the Indiana Alpaca Alliance, the national Alpaca Magazine, the Hummer Bulletin, and the national AOBA annual meeting. Information from this project will be shared with local community agencies that have participated in providing information or assistance with this grant. We are in contact with our local Purdue Extension Service which would welcome the results of this study as information for their program planning. Also, fiber production and processing exhibits are areas of great interest as the annual Earth Day Celebrations at White Violet Center, an event attended by three to four hundred persons.