Such a great article about our little fiber products and fiber milling company. We mill sheep wool, alpaca wool into beautiful yarns and products. We also have classes events and an amazing natural products store! Come visit us! 🙂
Knitting the Fabric of the Future
Source here: http://www.envisionjournalism.com/archives/6003
Re-posted here with permission. Article by Derek Maiolo, Images by Jennifer Maiolo
Caring for the land has always been at the forefront of Lorrae and Lewis Moon’s lifestyle. Longtime ranchers and residents of Craig, a small mining and farming town perched in the high deserts of Northwest Colorado, the couple has depended upon the environment to provide them with healthy cattle and prosperous harvests.
“I’ve been a rancher and a steward of the land my entire life,” Lorrae said.
That is why when the couple decided two years ago to divert their attention from ranching to open Yampa Valley Fiberworks, a fiber mill, environmental sustainability was a top priority.
“I have always been sensitive to what goes in the ground,” Lorrae explained. “I’ve done whatever I can do to be kind to the earth.”
The small herds of alpacas, goats and sheep surrounding their operation is a testament to their insistence on sourcing local fibers and promoting surrounding ranchers. The diversity in nearby livestock provides a wide range of fibers that the Moons process into various colors and blends of yarn.
Turning raw animal fibers into fine yarn is a careful and meticulous process. The first step is to wash the fibers. Wool from sheep can be especially hard to clean, but Lorrae insists on washing the fibers by hand using only water, vinegar, and biodegradable soap made by local artisans.
“We are an all natural mill so no chemicals are used to take out the dirt and grime,” Lorrae said.
Once clean, the natural fibers go through an orchestra of machines which dry, fluff, comb and eventually spin them into their desired patterns and colors. Oftentimes, fibers from different animals are blended together to create a certain texture. The Moons sometimes mix cellulose fibers like bamboo into the animal wools to make them softer or more colorful. The entire process uses only biodegradable soaps and liquids. “The harshest chemical we use in the entire mill is white vinegar,” Lewis explained.
Northwest Colorado is notoriously dry during the summer and fall, and having sufficient supplies of usable water for crops, let alone drinking, can be difficult. Lorrae said, “Water is very important in Northwest Colorado.”
Because the gray water from the mill is environmentally safe, the Moons have been able to recycle it for use on their vegetables. In the spring, they plan to use the water to plant a row of trees near the mill to prevent erosion.
Fiberworks also adds fuel to the movement to support locally sourced products and small businesses — something Lorrae says is especially important in her area in order to keep small livestock ranchers operational.
“Wool for ranchers hasn’t been big business,” she explained.
Craig’s economy has been especially hard-hit in recent years. The town relies heavily on revenue from its coal mining operations, but changing energy policies have left many without jobs and many more questioning the town’s future. Craig’s struggle to adapt to the modern shift toward renewable energies has created a polarization between the conservative northwest and the liberal Front Range counties in the Denver area to the east.
Most recently, claims made this summer by the Denver chapter of the WildEarth Guardians, an environmental activist group based in New Mexico, accused a local coal mine, Colowyo, of failing to adequately complete a 2007 environmental assessment. The resulting court order that a new assessment be completed threatened to shut down the mine and put 220 local residents out of a job.
By September, the Department of the Interior determined that the mine was in line with environmental regulations and no further legal action was taken. However, the case created a clear divide amongst Colorado counties. Craig’s liquor stores and many residents went so far as to boycott New Belgium and Breckenridge breweries from eastern counties which supported the WildEarth group.
Faced with uncertainty, many Craig residents have opted to find work elsewhere; those considering a move to the town have cited concerns over the community’s sustainability.
While Fiberworks remains a small operation, it has already begun to rebrand the town of Craig as well as improve its relationship with outside communities.
Fiberworks has recently helped connect a Southern Colorado ranch with a fiber dyer based just south of Craig and a yarn company based in Denver. Fiberworks also showcases local artisans’ work—from watercolor paintings to pottery— which has helped grow local art and craftwork. The growing popularity of the business has attracted customers from across the state and even the nation.
Susan Dohmer, who teaches classes at the mill and sells some of her own knitwork at the shop, believes this network has greatly helped the town.
“There are a lot of artisans out there whose businesses are growing,” she said. “And it’s growing the community.”
The classes she and Lorrae teach focus on educating others to source products and services from their own home. Topics range from fermentation to sock knitting, and Dohmer has witnessed a growing interest and enrollment in the courses.
“There’s an awakening of people who are beginning to see local is good, natural is good. They want to learn how to knit, how to spin and have a little peace and quiet in their lives,” she said.
With eyes bent toward the future, the Moons hope to expand their client base and continue to help struggling ranchers. Already, they are getting orders in from small livestock farms in states like North Dakota and Oregon. Lorrae also hopes to continue promoting local businesses and creating a positive image for Craig while maintaining the priority of sustainability.
“I want to create jobs and allow people to take care of themselves,” she said.
With just a few balls of yarn and some knitting needles, she’s doing just that.