Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Gathering wool in Valley Ford

Ever since humans and sheep met each other people have harvested wool, making both the sheep and themselves more comfortable. Sonoma County’s hills are filled with the gentle creatures, about 30,000 of them according to the 2012 Sonoma County Agriculture Commissioner’s Crop Report. From felting, which the sheep sometimes manage on their own, to spinning, weaving and knitting, wool has provided us with fabric since time out of mind. But the local sheep ranchers fell on hard times and from the wool providing the costs and the lamb providing the profits for ranchers, it came down to wool prices being so low ranchers have been throwing their wool away or using it as mulch, since it wasn’t worth the shipping costs to get it to a wool mill.. To Ariana Strozzi and Casey Mazzucchi of Valley Ford Mercantile and Wool Mill this was unacceptable. Strozzi is a zoologist with a degree from UC Davis and her partner Mazzucchi is a Valley Ford native and fourth generation sheep rancher. They had been raising sheep at Sky Horse Ranch for over a year and taking the fleeces to Yolo County, the closest wool mill. Other wool growers and buyers haul fleeces to Oregon or even as far as Texas to be prepared. “We had bought a wool bed and loved it. It was the best bed I had ever had. I wanted to use our wool to make bedding,” said Strozzi. “With wool there are no dust mites, it’s naturally fire retardant – no chemicals. It’s great for people who have allergies.” They used their combed wool to make bedding which they sold at fairs. Strozzi and Mazzucchi were determined to create a truly local product. The couple tried to buy the Yolo County mill but it was not for sale. Eventually they purchased the Valley Ford Mercantile building a year and a half ago. “We had the room to begin our own mill at last,” said Strozzi. They hired a textile engineer who helped them locate the equipment they needed. They purchased a picker, a carding machine and a massive 10,000 needle loom which felts the wool, the only such loom west of the Rockies. They started processing their own wool. Then neighbors began bringing in their wool...more

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