A Growing "Fibershed" in the Berkshires
by Martha Jackson Suquet
Shearing at Brattle Farm, Pittsfield

At Berkshire Grown we spend a lot of time thinking about local food -- how valuable it is, how the different parts of our food system work together, and how we can get more local food to more people. If you look around at the vendors in the Berkshire Grown Winter Farmers Market, you will see an abundance of another key product that is important to our farm economy: fiber. At the Berkshire Grown markets alone, farmers offer skeins of yarn from local sheep, luscious goat and sheep pelts, and cozy knitted products like alpaca gloves, socks, and wool hats and scarves knitted from local wool. We talked to some of our Berkshire Grown member farmers about what it takes to get fiber from the animal to the farmers market or yarn shop. 
At Ashford Heights Farm in Adams, farmer Teresa Daignault produces raw fleece, roving (cleaned wool that’s ready to spin), yarns, pelts, and knitted and handwoven items. As a knitter and spinner, Daignault says that "sheep just seemed to make sense” when she was looking into raising animals. Daignault has grown her flock of Gotland and Leicester Longwool sheep from five animals to almost one hundred. 
Twin Merino lambs at Brattle Farm.
Sheep are a popular fiber animal, and our farmers mentioned Merino, Tunis, Gotland and Leicester Longwool as breeds that are well-suited to fiber production and the Berkshire landscape. Donna and Bill Chandler of Brattle Farm in Pittsfield have won numerous awards at farm shows for the “superior softness and beauty” of their Merino’s fleeces. Producing a quality fleece is about more than breed selection, though. The Chandlers have to make sure that hay, burrs, and other materials don’t get into the wool before processing. They (and many other farmers) have their sheep wear lightweight coats to protect the fleeces. While Merino wool is valued for its softness, coarser wools like Leicester can be stronger and make excellent socks. 
Alpacas, llamas and goats also produce valuable fiber. Alpaca fiber is actually warmer than sheep’s wool, because the hairs are hollow and can trap more warmth. According to the New England Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, alpaca fiber has “the softness of cashmere, the luster of silk, the lightness of goose feathers, the durability of wool, and the warmth of a cozy fireplace. At Colonial Alpacas in Williamstown, Dell Rodman raises a small, quality alpaca herd and has their fiber made into a variety of products.
In addition to the individual fiber producers, the local fiber economy, or “fibershed”, is a larger system that moves fiber products from the farms to consumers. As with the more familiar term “foodshed”, a fibershed is composed of the farms, processors, and consumers who work together to produce and distribute their local fiber products within a geographic area. Awareness of local fibersheds may lag behind interest in local food production, but as consumers increasingly focus on sustainability and supporting the local economy, local fiber will become more prominent, and projects like the Western Massachusetts Fibershed, an offshoot of a California-based initiative, aim to spark interest in local, sustainable fiber production.  
One major challenge to local fiber production is a shortage of mills to turn raw wool into yarn, finished knit, or woven products. Daignault of Ashford Heights Farm has struggled to find mills that can balance quality and cost and sending fiber to distant mills is expensive. She’s looking forward to working with Nobletown Fiber Works, a new mill in Hillsdale, NY. Nobletown’s operator, Lewis Cleale, is excited to join the local fiber economy after extensive research on the business and mechanics of fiber processing. Cleale says the process of starting a mill has been one of sharing knowledge with his customers to produce the best fiber products. “I have had my hands in probably 15 different types of wool in the last few months,” he says. “Each breed has different wool. Each wool processes differently.”  
Goat and sheep pelts are part of the fiber world, too. When livestock farmers have sheep or goats processed for meat, they can also send the hides to a tannery to be turned into durable, attractive pelts. “Our pelts add comfort and joy to everyone’s home,“ says Melissa Martin of Dandelion Hill Farm. The pelts are versatile: some customers throw them over a chair or couch to add style to their home, while others use them as yoga mats or even comfortable dog beds. Martin also saves wool from her breeding stock to wrap the farm’s goat milk soap. The wool wrapping turns the soap into an exfoliant bar, and acts as green packaging that can be composted when the bar is used up. 

With the wide variety of fiber products available from local farms, local fibershed products can warm your body, brighten your home, and — if you knit, crochet, or weave — they can fulfill your creative side, too. 
How the Fibershed Economy Loops Around the Berkshire Region
The current fibershed of the Berkshires descends from the19th century milling industry in the region. The large scale textile mills in the 1800's strengthened made the Berkshire economy strong until the 1950s, when the the last woolen mill in Pittsfield closed. (You can read the timeline compiled by Hancock Shaker Village.) Those former mills now house many small businesses and food- and farm-related ventures, including the Berkshire Grown Winter Farmers Market held at GreylockWorks, a former mill complex in North Adams.
Image Courtesy GreylockWorks.org
To the east of the Berkshires, in Worcester, Mia Lumsden's idea for Uncommon Strands developed after she learned that much of the wool from our region is discarded each year. Partly that's a result of a shortage of mills capable of processing raw wool into usable forms and partly because sheep with especially fine wool are hard to raise in New England. Coarse wool is still wool though, so when she learned that huge quantities of wool grown in New England are sitting unused in barns or thrown into compost piles (or worse, into the landfill), she started making felted items and is still experimenting with some product designs, but plans to have items to sell by the summer. Uncommon Strands products will be 100% New England grown and made.

Famers who nurture, raise and tend their animals for fiber are important to the agricultural landscape, ecosystem, and local economy. Fiber in the Berkshires is here to stay.
Berkshire Grown Elects New Officers and Members to Board of Trustees
At their Annual Board meeting, Berkshire Grown Board of Trustees approved a slate of three new board members and elected officers. Incoming officers are Amy Rudnick, President; Peter Platt, Vice President, Tom Curtin, Treasurer, Lee Venolia, Clerk; and Jake Levin, Member-at-Large. The organization bade a fond farewell to two long-time Board members. Rotating off the Board of Trustees are Martin Stosiek, owner and farmer of Markristo Farm in Hillsdale, NY and Hester Velmans of Sheffield, MA.
Stosiek has served on the Berkshire Grown board since the organization’s incorporation 2003. In a farewell note he recalls the early days of building a farm/buyer network in the Berkshires:
“When we started in the late 80's, many asked us if we could make a living growing vegetables, and not everyone thought it was possible. Guess what, it is possible…thanks in no small part to the "seeds" sown by Berkshire Grown. Early on, Peter Platt, at Wheatleigh then, gave us invaluable advice on how to grow for and deal with restaurants. Through Berkshire Grown we were introduced us to Peter Greer, leading to our leasing a large parcel of land on which we were able to expand dramatically. Barbara Zheutlin opened the doors to Kripalu, which turned out to be one of our biggest customers, and even today Margaret Moulton has been tremendous in connecting us with food banks and pantries that has softened the blow of losing the restaurant market.
Growing food and selling mostly locally for almost 30 years, I have experienced a tremendous amount of change and through it I have learned that what is true today is not always true tomorrow. Part of our success is to remain conscious of the changing needs around us and be willing and able to adapt to those changes.”
Serving on the Board since service since 2009, Hester Velmans has advocated for Berkshire Grown as the Chair of the Development Committee, introducing friends and farmers to the organization, and provided her barn and home for networking, planning and celebratory events. Allison Rachele Bayles, the outgoing President of the Board thanked both for their years of service and saying “we are deeply grateful to both Martin and Hester’s many years of service that have provided guidance in strategic planning, and insight into the strengths and needs of our local Berkshire food system.”
Joining the Board in 2022 are three food and farming-focused Berkshire residents.
Katherine (Kat) Hand is Co-Owner and General Manager of Berkshire Cider Project – a small craft hard cidery located at Greylock Works in North Adams, MA. Berkshire Cider Project is dedicated to local sourcing, supporting Berkshire County agriculture, and celebrating the arts, culture, and natural beauty that makes the Berkshire region so special. Founded in 2019, Berkshire Cider Project is working to grow locally – hiring their first full time employees and expanding sourcing relationships with local orchards and institutions. Their tasting room will re-open in the spring– visit her there!
Previous to her life in cider making, Katherine held multiple roles in the social impact and sustainability sector. She began as a grants administrator at a small family foundation, then worked in development at the City Parks Foundation. Most recently, she has worked as a corporate sustainability professional, crafting sustainability strategy, reporting and communications for companies such as PepsiCo, Estee Lauder and HP Inc. Hand is particularly proud of her work at HP where she led the charge to align the company’s corporate Sustainability team with the company’s Finance team, integrating environmental, social and governance considerations into financial decision-making and investor relations.
Jim Schultz is the lead farmer at Red Shirt Farm, a diversified organic no-till farm in Lanesborough, Massachusetts. He studied small-scale, regenerative agriculture at the Sterling Institute, the New Alchemy Institute, and Evergreen State College and apprenticed on several small farms around New England. He put farming on hold to raise two children with his wife Annie, while teaching, coaching and administrating in the local public schools for 26 years.
Jim now farms full-time raising vegetables, pastured pigs, heritage chickens for meat and eggs and heritage turkeys. He remains passionate about education and hosts four apprentices and the Roots Rising Program each year as well as offering workshops to fellow farmers and the public. Jim is a member of the Northeast Climate Adaptation Fellowship, a collective of farmers, researchers and technical service providers and he firmly believes that farming is a key solution to mitigating climate change.
Photo Credit: Robin Caiola
Katy Sparks is the chef and owner of Katy Sparks Culinary Consulting, a full-service culinary and hospitality consulting firm with a focus on healthy, nutrient-dense and locally-sourced recipe development and sustainable kitchen design. Katy has spent over 20 years in the New York City food world, climbing the culinary ladder to attain the level of Executive Chef. She recently settled in the southern Berkshires where she finds daily inspiration from the local food makers and growers that this abundant region supports. Her clients have ranged from food business start-ups to sustainably sourced restaurants to nationally recognized retail food shops. She is regularly featured in the food press and maintains strong ties to the national food media.
She is an award-winning chef and author of Sparks in the Kitchen, published by Knopf. Katy regularly contributes her seasonal recipes to the Rural Intelligence blog which celebrates and supports northeast regional foods. Katy grew up in Vermont’s Champlain Valley where her family raised grass-fed beef and free roaming chickens. As an amateur naturalist, she learned to forage for wild edibles and is devoted to all things local and delicious.

Incoming Berkshire Grown Board President Amy Rudnick says that with “we are thrilled to add another farmer and a value-added food producer to our Board, while also deepening our connections to the central and north county communities. In addition, we welcome Katy Sparks’ deep understanding of the needs of chefs and the food production business, and we look forward to applying her knowledge to our local food community.”
What we are reading:

This Market Stepped Up to Feed a Town With No Grocery Store
Robin Catalano for Modern Farmer

In upstate New York, New Lebanon Farmers’ Market is filling a need and honing a model for others to follow.

When Josh Young took over management of the decade-old New Lebanon Farmers Market (NLFM) in rural upstate New York in 2020, he needed to think creatively to mitigate the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He didn’t anticipate those efforts would result in a new hybrid market model that would garner a major grant from the USDA, and serve as a fresh-fare blueprint for food deserts.
Like many Northeastern towns that prospered during the Industrial Era, New Lebanon declined when the passenger rail shuttered in the 1950s. The town’s only grocery store closed more than a dozen years ago. Residents had resigned themselves to the 10-plus-mile haul for shopping.

As the coronavirus rocked the supply chain, Josh Young, a freelance software engineer, and his sister, Eleanor Young, who runs a butchery and sausage-making business, took the NLFM virtual, with online ordering and weekly pickup and deliveries. It was an immediate hit.

Read the article here. Photo credit Elise Zvirzdin.
Support the farmers who grow your food:
Shop at the next indoor

Saturday, March 19, 2022
Housy Dome, 1064 Main Street, Housatonic, MA
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Shoppers, may pre-order from many of the market vendors through What'sGood in order to save time and insure you get the fresh products you are craving before they sell out! Prepaid orders are picked up via the curbside pick-up service. Of course all shoppers are welcome in the market. Masks are mandatory for everyone.

For the March19 farmers market, pre-orders on What'sGood will open on Monday, March 14 and close Thursday, March 16 at 11pm. Shoppers using SNAP can pre-order online, and pay at the Market Manager's table on market day.

Admission is always free and SNAP benefits are available (with 1:1 Market Match up to $25) at both markets. HIP benefits for fresh fruits and vegetables are available, too. Visit the Market Manager's Table for tokens and more information. Visit berkshiregrown.org
Berkshire Grown connects you with local farmers, restaurants, and food producers. DONATE TODAY to celebrate local farms and food, sustain our Berkshire food economy, and Keep Farmers Farming! Support your favorite local eating establishment.
  To pay via check or phone, make payable to Berkshire Grown, mail to:
PO Box 983, Great Barrington, MA 01230 or call (413) 528-0041.
Contributions are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
The 2021 Guide to Local Food & Farms is the Berkshire region's most comprehensive reference for finding local food, farms and restaurants that source from local farms and food producers.

This valuable resource connects you to farmers markets, CSA's, farms stands and farm stores, specialty producers, Berkshire County food pantry sites, local food & lodgings, and other business members who support Berkshire Grown and its mission to keep farmers farming.

Complete with contact information and a handy map, the 2021 Guide is now on the news stands throughout Berkshire County and the surrounding region. In addition you can find the 2021 Guide digital version and the Find Food and Farms searchable map on the Berkshire Grown website.

Stay in Touch

Berkshire Grown's e-newsletter comes out monthly. 
Please send information to  buylocal@berkshiregrown.org.
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Margaret Moulton, Executive Director
Jordan Archey, Program Manager, Business Members
Kate Burke, Program Manager, Farm to Food Access
Sharon Hulett-Shepherd, Membership and Office Manager
Join Berkshire Grown here.