No matter how far we travel – there is nothing quite like coming home. This weekend, I had the honor of sharing my home with a woman who has inspired much of my place-based work: Judy Wicks.
That meant I got to introduce Judy, local investment guru Jenny Kassan, authors Paola Gianturco and Amy Cortese, The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) Board Member Leslie Christian, and documentary film-maker Hassen Saker –– plus 21 other tour attendees –– to the work of my dear friend and mentor Rebecca Burgess, founder of The Fibershed Project. Fibershed was born out of the idea of a 150-mile fibershed "diet" - during which Rebecca lived for one year clothed exclusively from garments sourced and fabricated within her bioregion.
The tour, organized by Marissa LaMagna of Bay Area Green Tours, was the grand finale of the annual national BALLE Conference. We kicked off the tour at Oakland's newest coworking space, ImpactHub Oakland, then ventured north, visiting our first stop, Skyhorse Ranch, to visit the sheep, and sheep-herding-dog-in-training "Molly."
Our next stop on the tour was the Valley Ford Wool Mill, cofounded by our hosts Arianna Strozzi and Casey Mazzucchi, where we saw the final products (wool bedding, felted tapestries, dryer balls) from the sheep we had just petted. Arianna showed us how wool is processed from the moment it leaves the sheep's back, to the "skirting," counting the microns, pin-drafting, skein-winding, and finally to the point at which it enters the needle-felting machine –– the only such one in operation west of the rockies.
Arianna reminded us that these sheep and the ranch's economic bottom line have suffered severely because of the late rains this year (not a drop until February!) She said, "no one alive has ever seen the hills brown for that long."
Our third stop brought us just outside of Petaluma (my hometown) for lunch at Windrush farm single-handedly run by the passionate & dedicated Mimi Luebbermann. The dessert she served up was characteristic of her farm "It's all made from scratch, just the way we do things around here."
After lunch, we stuffed handfuls of stale bread into the mouths of eager Corriedales, Lincoln Longhorns, and bottle-fed baby lambs. Afterwards, Mimi shared stories of her work with kids as she showed us hand-spinning on a spinning wheel. She shared,
"I love it when I get to tell kids that it doesn't hurt the sheep to shear the wool – it is just like getting a haircut–– but then it breaks my heart when a kid gets excited about the fleece he is wearing and I can't bear to tell him that most of it now-a-days is made out of plastic."
After Mimi's I journeyed home to Petaluma while the tour returned to Oakland to visit Hiroko Kurihara at the shop she co-founded, the 25th Street Collective, a nexus of Bay Area slow-food and slow-fashion artisans.
As I left the bus, Judy summed it up best by saying, "What is happening in the Bay Area with the revival of the Fibershed movement is what BALLE is all about. Most wool in US comes from New Zealand. Let's bring it home. Buy wool garments made in US from local sheep."
I couldn't agree more.