Friday, January 25, 2008

Fiber Friday #4 - Silver Thunder Alpacas

Arrow, the alpaca

When I first started looking for sustainable and responsible fibers to spin, dye and knit with, I mostly focused on organic cotton and recycled materials (mill-ends, recycled sari silk, etc). As the world has become more ‘green’-minded, I find it’s easier and easier to find organic wool and natural-grown cotton. What it’s not so easy to find, is proof that this is sustainable or assurances that these products really are the best I can do. The more I’ve learned, I’ve begun to redefine what I consider ‘sustainable and responsible’. Reading Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Mineral impacted my thinking on supporting the local agricultural economy (and I’m blessed to live in an agrarian area). So, too, did learning that very few people in this area grow sheep for wool, due to its low market value and local alpaca farmers can get more for their crop if they send it to South America to be spun and knit. This excess transportation (fuel) and energy and the fact that the area is losing the community that is built around supplying each other with what we need, has honed my focus on finding local suppliers of fibers. I will still buy mill-ends, recycled fibers (like bamboo and soy) and other things I can’t get locally. But what I can buy here, I will.

It was with this commitment that I sent emails to 10 Tennessean (and a few from VA and NC, since I live near the border) fiber farmers. The first I heard back from were Chuck and Nancy from Silver Thunder Alpacas. Jay and I scheduled a visit for a Saturday afternoon. The drive to the farm was beautiful and the alpacas themselves were more than we could have hoped. Nancy and Chuck entertained all of our (even silly) questions. In the two hours we were at the farm, we learned more about the industry and care and lifestyle of alpacas then we could have imagined. We petted the alpacas, hugged the ones that would let us and gushed over the fantastic guard dogs.

Arrow's roving

Afterwards I purchased some brown roving and later spun into this week's Ross & Rachel yarn.

ross & rachel - handspun yarn

I have a lot more photos of the farm, and hope to share more as I get to know these and other local farmers better.