I have a small farm in Southeast Missouri consisting of 17 acres. We raise sheep, Angora goats, and Angora rabbits.
We practice sustainable practices on the land by allowing the livestock to rotational graze the areas. We do not use any chemical fertilizers on our pastures. We believe the manure produced by the animals helps to keep the ground fertile. We have a good crop of clover growing in our pastures, which helps keep the soil fertile.
We needed an outlet for the animals’ natural fiber of wool, angora, and mohair to produce more revenue for the farm and make the animals more cost efficient. I have been a hand spinner for 18 years and have sold my natural fiber to other spinners for almost that long. However, there is only so much fiber that one can sell so we began to look for a product that would use the fiber and generate income. We found it in the natural fiber socks we are producing thanks to the help from the grant.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Our goals were to obtain a small sock mill where we could control the processing of our natural fiber into a saleable product. We have been able to do that.
We sent our wool, mohair and angora to a small spinning mill in Wisconsin where it was spun into a fine two ply yarn that will fit the sock machines. The diameter of the yarn was our largest problem. We had to have a very fine yarn to run through the needles of the sock machines without breaking them. Ms. Anne Bosch of Blackberry Ridge Spinning Mill has had years of experience in spinning yarn for socks. We used her previously in 1992 and 1993 when we did small runs of socks before we were shut out of a sock mill in Wisconsin.
The fact that we were shut out of a mill was because we only did small lots. That is the reason we pursued the grant for our own sock mill.
After the wool was spun into cones of yarn they were sent to two hosiery mills for samples and evaluation of the machines used.
Mr. Donny Smith of L&M Hosiery, Decatur, Tennessee worked with us to find just the right diameter of machine using a 5-inch cylinder and 60 needles for the bulky mohair and wool. Mr. Bruce Huskey Knitting, Lafayette, Georgia used a 4 ½ inch cylinder 84 needle machine for knitting the wool and angora/wool socks. By using these two different factories we learned a lot about diameter of wool and how it affects the knitting ability of the various machines.
We purchased two 4 ½ inch cylinder 84 needles Scott and Willimas Komet sock knitters from Mr. Huskey. We will be purchasing this machine later on to do larger yarn on.
We then labeled the socks as 100% wool, 15% angora 85% wool, and 25% mohair and 75% wool. The socks are selling for $10.00, $18.00 and $12.00 respectively. We have had tremendous response from people who are looking for quality natural fiber products. Farmers, fishermen, hunters and hikers to name a few have bought them. Elderly people whose feet tend to be cold also enjoy them.
We learned a lot from the grant. There are a lot of small producers who will be coming to us with their natural fiber after it is spun into yarn so we can knit socks for them to resell. This will greatly help them with adding value to their fiber. There are a lot of people we told about how to go about getting a grant and what to submit to be qualified to receive one. I intend to teach a small class at some of the fiber events I go to so that others can be prepared to write one. Grant writing is largely overstated, as something an average person can’t do. I say just write out your plans and back it up with either something you have already done and can prove that your project works or develop something that fills a “niche” and fill it. Our socks did just that. Because we can devote more time to making sure that the finished product is done right our products can demand a higher price in the marketplace. I have given one pair of socks to a customer that wasn’t satisfied with how the original pair was wearing, no questions asked. He was pleased that I could do that. If you have satisfied customers they will recommend others to you. That has happened to us with these socks. We attend a sheep festival in Bethel, Missouri each year and this year we had people telling us that friends had bought from us last year recommended the socks to them and they watched for our booth.
I attend quite a few craft and fiber festivals each year. I used a poster to tell the public that the socks were made possible by a grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Region.
I was interviewed on Successful Farming Radio Magazine after the producer picked my name up from the list of grants awarded in 2001. He thought it would be an interesting topic. It aired in the “boot heel” region of Missouri on a Kennett, Missouri radio station.