Martha's Vineyard fibershed project

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2013: $6,987.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Rebecca Gilbert
Native Earth Teaching Farm

Annual Reports


  • Animals: goats, sheep


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - multispecies, pasture renovation, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stocking rate
  • Crop Production: crop rotation
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, participatory research, workshop, youth education
  • Energy: energy use
  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, e-commerce, market study, value added, agritourism
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, permaculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, public participation, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    A fibershed brings together producers, designers, and artists to develop and sell products made with local fiber, local dyes, and local labor. A membership group would provide marketing clout for the island’s fiber producers by sharing a promotional website, advertising, and labeling. It would allow for sales of small quantities, even one-of-a-kind offerings, in a consistent, professional setting, and increase opportunities to teach and do outreach for our farms and fiber arts work. Besides the economic benefits to farmers, larger herds grazing the island could reduce the need for mowing, brush cutting, and clearing which is presently done with herbicides and fossil fuels, even in areas that were once sheep farms. We want to add ‘wear local’ to the cultural thinking alongside ‘eat local’ and ‘buy local.’ Because of the other ‘local’ movements, people quickly grasp the concept of local clothing once it is pointed out We’re beginning to understand the benefits of keeping economies small and interdependent. These include: social accountability, keeping money in the community, reducing fuel use, and keeping people and land productive and profitable in ecologically sustainable ways. Could this project work here? We intend to find out.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our goals for the first year of the project are:

    1 Create a core membership group of island shepherds and designers.

    We already have eight shepherds who have agreed to meet to discuss this project in January 2013, three are already committed and a couple more are thinking about it. Several designers and the organizer of MV Fashion Week are also very interested. We will continue to contact additional possibilities personally, with the help of our advisor, and will also announce our meetings in the papers and on face book.

    1 Develop a website to promote and sell member’s goods and services.

    This is key to the success of the Fibershed Project. We expect it to take extra time, attention and ‘tweaking’ during the first summer of operation in order to get it working well. It is to pay for this extra labor that is the main purpose of this application. After the first summer, we expect maintenance of the site will take a smaller and more predictable amount of time and money. Our computer advisor is another small island farmer, though not a fiber producer; her other business is IT consulting, and she has already contributed enthusiasm and equipment to the project.

    2 Build a roster of workshops and demonstrations that our members are available to present.

    Several island shepherds, including myself, give workshops occasionally, either at our own farms or through an organization such as Featherstone Center for the Arts. I demonstrate spinning at schools, and each year new teachers are not aware the opportunity exists. Events such as the Alpaca Farm’s shearing day could also be promoted. Group promotion could increase interest in fiber related workshops, and the Fibershed website will provide a one-stop source for information about the educational possibilities available on the island.

    3 Design a label that members can use on goods that are primarily locally produced.

    We would start by adopting a system similar to that in use in California; the majority of the fiber in an item must be local, notions such as thread and buttons are not required to be.100% local labels may also be desirable. ‘wear local’ will be included on the label. Some will be laminated and attachable, others not laminated, for enclosures. Our core group of members will decide criteria and approve the design, and will receive labels free or at cost.

    4 Kick off a ‘wear local’ advertising campaign

    A ‘wear local’ movement on the Vineyard will have diverse benefits. It will be good for business, from the fiber producers through design and production to retail sales. We will promote the ‘wear local’ concept on labels on our goods, in the two newspapers, on the Internet, at fairs and festivals, through posters on bulletin boards, at the island’s two knit shops, and at our farms.

    5 Make up a display that can be taken to fairs (such as the Ag Soc Fair) and festivals (like Living Local Harvest Festival, Native Earth’s Popcorn Festival, and so on.) and also to farmer’s markets.

    Liz began a display at the fiber tent at the Fair last year, which connected baskets of touchable fiber with a map of island farms. An expanded version with photos of farms and fiber animals, and a brief explanation of the Fibershed and the ‘wear local’ concept, would provide an educational display that we could set up at a number of local events. It would be an outreach and teaching tool when un-staffed, and form the basis for a group sales table so we can pool our wares if people are available to staff it.

    Other avenues we are looking into, although we aren’t planning to implement them in the first year, include coordinating between landowners and farmers to do prescribed grazing, programs specifically tailored for schools, and group ownership of processing equipment.

    At the end of 2013, we hope island farmers, artists, and designers will have an exciting new tool to develop and market their work. Once the Project has been operational for a summer season, we will have a good idea what it costs to run. We will know whether it is reasonable to expect that it will be able to pay for it's own maintenance and activities through membership fees and a percentage of sales. At that time we should be able to evaluate whether or not this is going to work for Martha's Vineyard as it is set up, and will report our findings.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.