On a balmy, mid-October day, Rachel Boucher surveys her flock of 39 Shetland sheep that are grazing lazily on the waning fall grass under a cloudless blue sky. She has big dreams for locally grown wool in Minnesota. “Ideally, it would be great to have a Minnesota Grown and Minnesota-made product available right in the Mall of America,” she mentions. “I want people to know that yes, products made from local yarn cost more, but they also last longer and you’re supporting your neighbors and friends.”
Rachel and Alan Boucher are the owners of Rach-Al-Paca Farm, a farm which boasts a fiber processing mill, Huacaya and Suri alpacas, Boer goats, and Shetland sheep. Rachel and Alan inherited goats with the farm in the early 2000’s and built the rest of the business over years of hard work. “Larry the Lamb," their first Shetland baby born on the farm, is now an arthritic old man that has become a farm celebrity. Visitors even can purchase yarn made from Larry’s wool as a keepsake.
Processing wool and other fiber (material capable of being spun into yarn), is a major focus of the farm. Small and medium-scale fiber processors are critical to small wool and fiber producers, helping farmers transform locally grown fibers into yarns. Those farms can then sell the yarn on to their customers and make knitted products for customers to purchase like sweaters, rugs, or hats. Transforming fiber into yarn is a complicated process that varies immensely depending on the quality of the starting material and the blend of fibers you are mixing into a yarn. The graphic below shows all the steps in wool processing from fleece to yarn, and you can read about it in detail on Rach-Al-Paca Farm’s website.
Local Fiber in Minnesota
Minnesota has a rich history in wool production. For example, one of Minnesota’s most recognized woolen mills, Faribault Woolen Mill Company, began in 1865 – just seven years after Minnesota became a state – and is still in business today. Farmers who raise animals and plants for fiber are also a part of this rich history and are found across the state. The Minnesota Grown Directory has farmers who sell alpaca products, mohair, wool, and yarn directly to customers. Some yak producers even gather fiber off of their herds and sell it as the raw fiber or processed yarn.
When you plan on buying local for this holiday season, don’t forget about wrapping your loved ones up in all of the wonderful products made from local yarn, wool, and other fibers. Stay tuned for our Holiday Edition of Pick of the Month for some fun gift examples.