This project has 4 objectives:
1.Research current fiber infrastructure shortcomings and strengths, by defining:
a.Current infrastructure organization: successes, failures, and what lead to its current state. b.Infrastructure needs in order for regional fiber farms to be sustainable.
2.Collaborate and initiate community with a group of Finger Lakes fiber farmers to:
a.Determine how to address and find solutions for existing infrastructure shortcomings.
b.Produce a replicable strategy that will aid other communities in addressing sheep-to-shawl infrastructure issues, using project management techniques.
3.Solve (with farmer collaborators) 2 – 3 high-need/high-feasibility challenges highlighted during the collaboration phase.
4.Disseminate information on effective strategies so that other fiber communities can begin to communally address infrastructure issues, and ask for feedback.
To be deemed successful, Finger Lakes fiber farmers will note the existence of a more coherent community as well as an added ability to communally pinpoint and solve regional sheep-to-shawl infrastructure problems. They will also note an increase in their future prospects regarding quality of life, productivity, and return. These impacts will be measured by a survey that will be disseminated at the beginning and end of the grant year.
There are over 470 fiber farms in NYS . In a random survey of 57 of these fiber farms, 63% reported an annual farm income of less than $10,000/year and only 2% an annual farm income of more than $75,000/year . Results from a mill feasibility survey conducted by Dana Havas (key collaborator for this project) in September 2017 showed that many fiber farmers experience a fractured infrastructure, limiting their ability to market goods, increase revenue and improve quality of life. Up to now, most research and action initiatives performed concern marketing and increased consumer education. While these are important components in improving productivity, return, and quality of life, it is not comprehensive. This proposal aims to extend this previous research to come up with a more wholesome solution by addressing the fragmented ‘sheep-to-shawl’ infrastructure.
The NY Fiber Sourcebook, completed just this year by researchers at Cornell University and with approximately 70 farmer collaborators throughout NYS, describes yarns produced by these farms, including their mechanical and tensile strengths. The intention of this publication is to “inspire greater use of NYS yarns” by increasing quantitative and qualitative information available about these yarns. The NY Fiber Sourcebook will be a valuable resource for local farm to finished product/fashion endeavors such as Manufacture NY and the Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator .
The Natural Fiber Alliance (NFA) and the Minnesota Wool Project, SARE grant FNC14-965, addressed finding sustainable solutions in the Midwest wool market using surveys and building community-based solutions . The surveys, aimed at wool product manufacturers and intermediate processors, focused on the perception of locally sourced wool. The information gathered was then pooled and a collective program, whose goal is to help farmers market their goods, was created. The NFA project is similar to this proposal in that surveys and collective action will be used to solve a fiber community problem. The key difference is in that this proposal will extend beyond marketing in hopes to create a more sustainable fiber farm community that will act to address the infrastructure problems.
Making community connections is valuable to small farmers, as is evidenced by the NFA and other organizations such as the many and various small ruminant listservs that currently exist throughout the North East. Listservs are used to disseminate information and resources, as well as market livestock among farmers or interested consumers, over large areas. The MidAtlantic Sheep & Goat Marketing listserv hosted by the University of Maryland Extension, at the time of their final report publication, had over 1065 sheep and goat producers from over 40 states using the listserv . While a valuable resource that emphasizes the importance of building farming communities, it does not bring together farmers of a region to solve regional problems that can only be addressed through conversation and joint decision making that leads to local initiatives.
The aim of this proposal is to employ the strength of community-engaged solutions to address the fragmented sheep-to-shawl infrastructure that extends beyond finding unique marketing opportunities. This is important because consumer/end-user trends are volatile in that they depend greatly on social and economic descriptors . While marketing does address a component in the sheep-to-shawl chain it is not the whole picture, and there are other components, including inconsistent shearers, wool to processing shipping requirements, high cost and inconsistent processing, that also need to be addressed for a more holistic solution to be reached. The goal of this proposal is to begin to address these challenges as a community and forge the way for other fiber farming communities to do the same.
H. Trejo, The New York Regional Tarn Sourcebook, Ithaca: Cornell University, 2017.
H. Trejo, T. Lewis and M. Thonney, “Beyond Wool: New York’s Diverse Fibershed for Textiles and Clothing,” Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions Examining the Past, Creating the Future, 2014.
J. Mueller, “Final Report for FNC14-965 Developing Profitable and Sustainable Fiber Markets in Southern Minnesota,” NE-SARE, 2015.
S. Schoenian, “LN04-211 Mid-Atlantic Sheep & Goat Marketing Project,” NE-SARE, 2008.
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada- Office of Consumer Affairs, “Conclusion – Making Sense of Consumer Trends,” 05 2011. [Online]. Available: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/oca-bc.nsf/eng/ca02119.html. [Accessed 10 2017].
The Sheep-to-Shawl project involves creating and implementing a simple project management protocol within the Lower Finger-Lakes/CNY fiber producing community to identify and address communal supply chain challenges.
To assess the effectiveness of this protocol as best as possible, a quality-of-life questionnaire was created and distributed prior to the protocol aforementioned (August 2018). The same questionnaire will be distributed again at the end of the grant cycle. This questionnaire has a control and treatment group (control being those not involved with the group working with this project). The quality of life questionnaire was distributed using the Qualtrics Survey software to the Cornell Sheep and Goat Management list-serve, whose primary circulation is to NY State sheep and goat producers but also include alpaca farmers as well as people from surrounding states. A test survey was presented to a small group of sample individuals prior to distribution in order to verify comprehension.
The first step in identifying and addressing communal supply chain challenges is to collect the needs of the community. This was done through 2 primary routes: interview, focus group, and a previously existing survey. A focus group was organized at our Summer 2018 Quarterly meeting. From previous interviews, 3 broad areas were identified as high need topics: education, marketing, and production/processing. At the quarterly meeting, the farmers were asked to randomly break into groups (one group for each of the topics) and were given 20 minutes to discuss the needs associated with each topic and give more detail to the needs previously identified through the existing questionnaire results. Each group was given a large piece of paper and a copy of their groups topic and previously identified needs related to their topic. They were asked to write down needs that came out of their discussion. This paper was then collected from each group at the end of the meeting. (Two things of note: Discussion of the needs, post group, was not pursued in order to stave off the conversation of solutions at that time. This is because we want to guide the discussion of solutions. Also, the producers requested that future discussion or brainstorming items be distributed prior to the meeting so that they could have more time to consider ideas).
The collected information from the needs discussion was then used as a framework to create a needs review questionnaire. Again broken down into broad topics the questionnaire was distributed to relevant producers (no control group) and the producers were asked to rate each identified need on a scale from 1 to 5 with one being a low need and 5 being a high need. This questionnaire was open for ~1 month. This questionnaire had a low respondent rate and this will need to be addressed in the future so that the needs being addressed best represent the community they are addressing (i.e. a midway reminder email encouraging the producers to take part in deciding the change we will create, or similar).
Once the ‘Needs Review Survey’ closed the results were collected and tallied. The highest valued results were distributed prior to the next quarterly meeting (October 2018) where they were presented. The needs were again broken down into the 3 main topics of education, marketing, and processing/production. At this quarterly meeting, the farmers were asked to randomly break into groups (one group for each of the topics) and were given 20 minutes to brainstorm possible solutions for each of the needs presented. Each group, again, received a copy of their topic and its needs as well as a large piece of paper and marker to write ideas. At the end of the 20 minutes, each group was asked to present 3 solutions they came up with to facilitate discussion. The papers were collected so that a solution-weighing-matrix questionnaire (SWM) could be created from their ideas. Besides discussion at the meeting, producers were encouraged to continue to send ideas via email for another 2 weeks prior to the SWM questionnaire was created and distributed.
Once the 2-week open concept period ended the SWM questionnaire was created and distributed to relevant producers (no control group) using google forms. Again the solutions were broken into topics: education, marketing, and processing. The producers were asked to fill out a Likert-type scale for each solution in regards to 3 perceptions: ease of execution, the value of the solution to the community, and their personal interest in the solution. The survey is currently open and will remain so for ~1 month. Midway the producers received a reminder again prodding them to ‘Take Part in Creating Solutions’. After this midway reminder response rates increased (tripled) from 7 to 21.
The next steps involve tallying the results from the SWM questionnaire, and applying weights to the 3 perspectives (this early on the highest weighted perspective will be ease of execution, then personal interest, and finally value to the community). Once the solutions are tallied the highest valued ones from each topic will be presented to the group and 2 solutions will be chosen for execution. The first step will be to form committees and build a timeline.
Once the process of solution building (determining needs, ranking needs, brainstorming solutions, chosing solutions) is complete the process will be discussed, improved upon and repeated.
The results currently (mid-way through grant cycle) discussed here are community specific and are not the primary focus of this research, instead are secondary data resulting from conducting this project.
The Needs Review Questionnaire showed that the highest needs in the relevant community are the following (found in Slides_QM4_2018):
Marketing Related Needs:
- An increase in the value of fiber
- A market for fiber related goods
- A decrease in marketing/selling time
- A market for raw fiber
- Innovative uses for fiber
- A decrease in marketing costs
Processing Related Needs:
- Better processing time/turnover.
- A decrease in processing costs.
- Better Processing options.
Education Related Needs:
- Consumer education
It was apparent after the Needs Review questionnaire results came back that more detail is needed for future needs assessment, as many of the producers commented on the vagueness of the needs descriptions. The next round of needs review we will aim to gather more detail concerning the perceived needs.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
Consultations are a part of some of the quarterly meetings. At the beginning of these quarterly meetings were roundtables or panel discussions that involved educating folks about different aspects of the fiber supply chain and/or the challenges associated with the supply chain that the small flock producer faces.
Curricula, Factsheet & Educational Tools (and on-farm workshop):
This was in conjunction with an on-farm workshop on skirting fleece. This workshop was organized in response to the request of a number of shepherds who wanted to gain understanding and experience skirting to increase the marketing value of their fiber. It was a 2-hour workshop led by one of the farmer collaborators (Karen Stern) made up of a demonstration, a hands-on session, and a fact-sheet on how to skirt.
Webinars, Talks, and Presentations:
Monthly ‘Meet the Shepherd’ talk given at the local library. Each month a different shepherd from the local community is invited to share their experience as a shepherd. This was organized in response to the need for community outreach. It is a 1-hour talk with Q&A, the other shepherds and the public are invited to attend.
The on-farm workshop is in response to requests from the community to increase farmer education concerning skirting for different end purposes (hand-spinner, mill, other).
Published Press articles or newsletters:
An article was written for a knitting magazine, Nomadic Knits, about the history of the small flock local fiber supply chain and the challenges the farmers currently face in navigating this supply chain (12/2018).
There are 2 monthly newsletters: one to the public and one to local fiber producers through-out the region.
The public newsletter draws attention to different fiber-related activities and events in our region, shares a little bit about what the fiber producers group (LocalFiber) is up to, and invites them to take part by attending and/or volunteering at different events.
The fiber producer monthly newsletter is more in-depth and works to keep the fiber producers involved and in the loop as to the activities and items being pursued by the community (LocalFiber).
Other Educational Activities:
Quarterly meeting (as described above)
Community Table at Fiber-Market (Schweinfurth Art Museum, Auburn NY):
This is the first opportunity for the community to have a community table at a local fiber festival/market. This is an action in response to producers who are not able to make it to festivals/markets or do not have enough items to attend a festival/market on their own. The community will host a table so that these folk can have the opportunity to gain income from a market opportunity.
Being built currently.
This assessment will be done at the end of the project period. An initial quality-of-life questionairre when out at the beginning of the grant period and will be revisited at the end of the end of the grant period.