Woolgathering on the Farm

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $7,165.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Sophie Sheppard


  • Animals: sheep


  • Education and Training: workshop
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, marketing management, value added, agritourism
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, employment opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Woolgathering on the Farm" intends to refine our on-farm workshops which are adding value to the high quality wool produced by our small farm flock. Our farm would like to expand our flock as an increasingly important component of our diversified farm income. To expand, we need to develop our market at the same pace as our flock grows. We selected our purebred Icelandic flock because we recognize the problems with today's traditional wool marketing in the US. We realized the nation's rapidly expanding hand-spinning and knitting industries presented an opportunity to market high quality wool. We also recognized the opportunity to add agri-tourism to the mix as a way to increase our market potential. For the last two years, we have conducted on-farm workshops during our fall shearing (our flock is shorn twice a year and produces a premium fiber in the fall). Our workshop participants choose wool from our naturally colored fleeces as it is shorn. In 4 days, we walk them through the processes of handling their raw wool: skirting, scouring, flicking, carding, spinning, knitting and weaving. Eighteen participants either camp on the farm or stay in local accommodations. All meals are provided by a local caterer. Each workshop has been extremely successful, with a waiting list and many word-of-mouth recommendations that mean next year's workshops will also be filled. In fact, they have been so successful that we have scheduled two workshops for 2010. These workshops mean that our wool is sold to participants at prices that far exceed those of the local traditional wool pool. And we are teaching wool processing skills to the participants that will keep them coming back as repeat fiber customers year after year. Our farm collaborates with Warner Mountain Weavers, a local fiber and weaving store and studio. The Mission of WMW is to "support local artists and sheep ranchers providing a market for both fleeces and wool products so that those who make a life and living in the sheep industry will remain a vital part of the Western landscape and economy." WMW's 7 years of annual "Woolgatherings" have evolved into this collaborative project on our farm. Our joint goals are to expand the market for locally produced, high-quality wool for hand-spinners, knitters and weavers and to interest other local ranchers in producing high quality wool as we develop our market. WMW sponsors local 4-H spinning, knitting, felting and weaving as one of the ways to build community interest in the production of top quality wool. WMW sells yarn from our farm's wool: Sophie's Icelandic Wool, as well as roving and yarn from 4 other local producers. To date, we have donated our time and our own equipment to organize and conduct these workshops. This grant seeks funds toward eventually having wool processing equipment that is totally dedicated to these workshops. We also are requesting to replace our homemade sheep handling equipment with more professional equipment. We ask for funds to publish a brochure for potential customers and participants as a way to spread interest in our product. We also seek some compensation for our organizational time and class-time during the workshops. We plan local meetings with potentially interested fiber producers as we grow our marketing over the next several years. We have requested the technical advice of Matt Drechsel, our local NRCS District Conservationist who is working with us on pasture improvement and management as well as on our Wetlands Reserve Program easement.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. To develop an increasing market for our farm's high quality wool and wool products

    2. To expand our sheep flock as our market grows to be an increasingly important component of our farm's diversified income.
    3. To develop value-added agri-tourism as another component of our farm income.
    4. To cooperate with Warner Mountain Weavers to increase our shared market possibilities.
    5. To help develop a reliable market for high quality wool and wool products produced by other local growers.

    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.