In this thread, I want to examine what is a fibreshed, what is a Fibershed, what we already have in place in my area, and what elements are holding us back from having a thriving fibreshed economy in Southern Vancouver Island and the surrounding Archipelago.
What is a fibreshed and Fibershed?
The Fibershed Movement was started by Rebecca Burgess and some extremely talented and innovative people in California. It has rapidly expanded, and there are Fibershed branches growing all over the world. It's basically the public face of the local clothing movement.
Here is quite possibly the most life-changing video I've ever seen.
Fibershed is not a new concept. It's a new word for what used to be so normal that we never needed a word for it before. I choose to differentiate the Fibershed Movement from the word 'fibreshed'. I use the Canadian spelling of 'fibre' (because I'm talking about a fibreshed in Canada) and no capital letter to refer to the geographical and bioregional landscape that can provide all the clothing needs for someone living in our region. I make this difference between Fibershed and fibreshed because the Fibershed people have been doing absolutely amazing work and are now involved in certification. I don't want to risk muddying their brand.
Some fibresheds are over 150 miles from the centre, others even larger. Some are only 50 miles. How large a fibreshed is, is dependent on the individual region and the people in it. I'm not certain yet how large the vancouver island fibreshed would need to be, but I suspect, saying it's X-number of miles/kilometres isn't going to fit well with our local geography and climate. There are a few Fibershed Affiliates in our area, but I have yet to find one that is active or that answers their emails. If they did, I would love to work with them to help their projects grow.
But I also think our local fibreshed is something more than one group of people. I see a thriving fibershed as being a whole economy which includes Fibershed Affiliates, as well as many other individuals.
What does a successful fibreshed need?
Lots of different things, but to oversimplify, here's a list.
1. a source of fibre that makes clothing appropriate for the climate. For example, on Vancouver Island, one would want a warm textile like wool and a plant textile like linen or nettles.
2. The resources to make this fibre into cloth.
3. the skills to make this fibre into cloth.
5. an ecologically sustainable model to make this happen
6. an economically sustainable model to make this happen.
In the next few posts, I am going to address what fibreshed resources we already have on Southern Vancouver Island and the surrounding Archipelago and what, in my opinion, is holding us back from having a thriving fibreshed economy.
These numbers refer back to my earlier list of what a fibreshed needs.
1. A source of fibre: There are a great many farmers who have sheep, alpacas, llamas, mohair goats, and angora rabbits.
It is estimated that between 15,000 and 30,000 sheep reside on Vancouver island and the surrounding gulf islands, most of them produce useable wool. There are only a handful of shearers in our area, so it would be easy to get an inventory of local wool sources.
Some of these farmers focus on fibre production. You can buy fibre directly from the farm or from the local shops that specialize in this sort of thing.
There are also many more farmers that focus on meat production and the fibre is an unwanted byproduct. Much of this wool is of a quality that would produce excellent blankets, sweaters, and outerwear like jackets.
2. The resources to make this fibre into cloth: There are a lot of different things that could fall under this heading. We have shearers, washing equipment, hand processing equipment, spinning wheels, looms, and so on.
On a larger scale, we have a new fibre mill opening up in town this spring. Not having to ship fibre out of province to be processed, opens up a huge opportunity for our local fibreshed. This mill can transform the raw fibre into yarn which can then be woven.
3. the skills to make this fibre into cloth: This is all about the people. We have these skills in spades! We have farmers, weavers, dyers, spinners, sewers. We have people working at all level of production and many different scales of production.
wovenwares is a group of weavers who work with local resources and artisans to produce clothing for sale. Their product is stylish and natural. Very fashionable by local standards.
This is just one example of what our vast local skillset has to offer.
4. customers: With my work in the community, I am constantly asked: "where can I buy that?" "Where can I buy locally grown sweaters/rugs/towels/clothing/baby blankets/coats/skirts/pants/..."
I think the demand is there. I think the price is important. Some people think only about price when it comes to clothing. But there are others who are more than willing to pay extra for clothing that is sourced ethically, locally and organically.
There are also enough people interested in buying local materials (at all stages of production) for their craft.
A lot of the local groups do public demonstrations in spinning, weaving, flax to linen, and other textile crafts. Over the years, this has increased demand for local cloth and clothing far beyond what we can produce by hand.
1. A source of fibre: At the moment we don't have any large scale sources of plant fibre available in our area. However, the local Flax to Linen group and other enthusiasts have done the research and development to discover which fibre flax grows well locally, when to plant it, what its needs are, and what it requires to produce a fine, linen yarn.
2. The resources to make this fibre into cloth: Dew retting (the process of laying flax on the lawn so that microbes can 'eat' the 'glue' that holds the flax fibres into the stem) works well here with no added input or waste product that would harm the waterways. This is very important for processing flax.
The Flax to Linen group and other individuals around town have the hand tools to process linen into yarn. One can process quite a bit of flax fibre by hand. A day or three of enthusiastic work (or 10 days at a more leisurely pace) would give enough fibre to keep one spinner happy for a year - especially if one processes both tow and line flax.
taproots fibre lab has larger scale flax to linen equipment for sale that we could buy if we ever decided to increase production.
3. the skills to make this fibre into cloth: For over 10 years now, the flax to linen group of Victoria (not to mention numerous other individuals in the area) has been experimenting and perfecting the skills needed to process flax into linen cloth as well as teaching others how to do so.
4. customers: Part of the Flax to Linen of Victoria's mandate is public education. They set up at farmers markets and other events, demonstrating how awesome line cloth is. This has created a local love of linen and many people asking where they can buy this clothing? I've noticed that many of the local shops now carry linen yarn where they didn't before and linen shirts and skirts are now available in the shops again. I think there's a demand for Linen. There's a demand for local. I think it would require very little customer education to produce enough demand to support a local linen industry here.
Unfortunately, the information about them is Facebook so that limits the number of people who can learn about them and participate, but this article in the local press does help spread the news.
Farmers, textile makers and a newly reopened fleece-processing mill are among supporters of the launch of the Vancouver Island Fibreshed project, which aims to help build a local textile industry.
A fibreshed is defined as a geographic region that provides all the resources that go into the making of textiles including animal or plant-based fibres, dyes, processing and manufacturing.
...the fibreshed for Vancouver Island and surrounding islands encompasses about 150 square miles.
The goal of the project is to help create a local fibre economy on Vancouver Island by providing support for farmers to raise more fibre-producing animals and crops, and ensure links to processors and markets for products.
I'm really glad to see this moving forward and I'm looking forward to working with and supporting them (if I can find out how to contact them outside facebook).
Although, it's interesting that their recent funding drive is "to conduct an inventory of the needs of farmers who raise animals for their fleece on Vancouver Island and the surrounding islands". I know of several inventories done over the last 15 years. To inventory, the fibre animals would be very easy as there aren't that many shelters in the area. They have highly detailed lists of the number of sheep and quality of the fibres (often saving samples from every animal they work with).
As for the needs of the farmers, I hope to explore that next. There are some pretty big stumbling blocks that prevent the majority of farmers from producing useable fibre and/or knowing how to transform it into a marketable product.
Are you sure this survey is really a survey ?
I don't know. I don't understand the difference between inventory and survey in this context.
I know a few shops had to do this to get loans from the bank, they did an extensive list of the fibre resources on the islands and the customers interested in buying raw materials, semi-raw materials like yarn, and finished products.
...a publicity thing in disguise or some sort of thing to put pressure on other powers to help them local govt maybe ? ( look we can create jobs for example so give us XXX)
Not a bad thing in my opinion if they actually do it.
From the grapevine, the mill is looking to hire some full-time staff (not something I've ever seen a local mill do before as they always seem to be owner operated in the past) and they already have customers lined up with fibre to process. I know I'm going to be acquiring wool and alpaca fibre and have them transform it into yarn for weaving.
I don't know if I expressed enough how excited I am about this fibreshed initiative. But I am concerned that it's so difficult to contact them - that they are shutting out a large customer base by doing facebook only. Their gofundme thing is a bit concerning too as I don't fully understand what the money is for. I think this puts a damper on my enthusiasm.
Their gofundme thing is a bit concerning too as I don't fully understand what the money is for.
Is there a link for this? I might have missed it but didn't see it anywhere even in the article.
I really like that this is being attempted at least.
I like David's idea of suggesting they post here at permies although I think I'll 'follow' them on facebook.
FB has it's downsides but I like the variety of 'groups' I can follow (and participate) in specific areas I'm interested in.
EDIT I see they have 340 people 'following' the fb page. That is not so many...maybe early days still?
David Livingston wrote:You don't like Facebook ?
I don't like anything that provides a barrier to access.
To me, using facebook-only is like not providing a wheelchair ramp to your shop. It keeps some people out and sometimes, those are exactly the people you want the most. I've been part of several groups, including our local transition movement, that have switched to FB only and then dwindled and died. I think using FB as one of many tools is probably a really good idea, but only using facebook really limits the audience. I have a long rant about that.
I did a search of some of the best-known survey and statistic companies in Canada this morning, and it's interesting to see just how many studies on Social Media use there is. Here's a rough and unscientific summary of what I've read using numbers only from the last three years. It looks like a little over 60% (the different studies ranged from 59 to 64%) of the population in our province use FB at least once a week. Only about 50% of the adult population use it daily. What I found most interesting is that the numbers don't seem to be going up and I spent loads of time wading through articles about "how I don't use FB anymore".
So what about FB accounts that are open to public view? First, it's not easy to view these as FB limits what you can click and puts this big box in the way so you can only see a part of the screen. They also have a cooky policy that some people find invasive. FB also seems to limit the amount you can view before it puts a second box in the way demanding you log in and won't let you see anymore.
In the local Fibre Arts Community, from my informal surveys, I would say that maybe 40% are on FB at least once a week. Maybe half of the ones I know who are on FB only do it to see pictures of their relatives and don't really understand (or care about) what else FB can do. But these same people do enjoy blogs and news articles about fibre arts. They just don't use FB to access it.
Let's pretend it's the highest number I could find 64% of people using FB. Let's pretend that represents the target demographic. Let's pretend all else is equal and that whole 64% understand everything wonderful about FB. By restricting their web presence to FB only, they are missing out on 36% of the population. - basically, a large flight of stairs, and no wheelchair ramp.
Ug, sorry, long off-topic rant. If you want to hear more on why FB frustrates me, feel free to revive the other thread.
The conclusion is, I think that an internet presence that limits itself to FB reduces the number of people one can reach. This makes me sad as I want this idea to reach as many people possible. I want a thriving fibreshed in my community.
It was actually the rumor of this that inspired me to start this thread. I was told we need some more ideas on what obstacles we have in our way so we can discover how to overcome them. I'm hoping that is where this thread will lead - to the solution for our fibreshed and others around the globe.
I am a member of Facebook , and yahoo groups as well as permies of course :-)
I have had some similar issues as your self as the name David Livingston is not without fame :-)
This post has been especially difficult. I've written and rewritten it at least once a day since this thread started. But each time, it shows how frustrated I am with the situation at hand and doesn't focus enough on the good things.
But I realize that this is a huge problem - one of animal welfare and many legal and quasi-legal issues that make it very difficult for farmers to give their animals the best possible care (and thus produce the best possible fibre). I think if this can be solved, everything else to make a wonderful fibreshed will fall into place.
I'm writing from my own experience as a farmer and fibre artist. I'm also writing from my conversations with other farmers in the area and talking with numerous authorities on the topic including veterinarians, politicians, local animal rescue groups, and local police who are in charge of animal control (including protecting wild and domestic animals from abuse). What I write here is not the only way to view the current situation - as you will see later in this post - but I feel that I've accumulated enough evidence to suggest a solution that will help all points of view.
That solution is:
Easy and affordable access to veterinary care!
This solution is going to be the most difficult and most expensive to implement. Cats, dogs and horses are the most lucrative animals to treat. The replacement value of a sheep is only about $400 so most farmers don't want to pay thousands of dollars for treatment.
But they do need to know they have somewhere to go when the sheep need urgent care.
Also education. That's half of what the vet is there for, to educate the farmer on how not to need them - prevention and good animal husbandry. many small farmers in our area do not have any experience with livestock prior to getting sheep - no education, no experience, no understanding of what is normal, happy behaviour, and what is something that needs attention. Most of these farmers read books, but others don't. Having an animal health care professional they can turn to would make a huge difference for these farmers.
Some examples of why a lack of vetinary care is harming our local fibre farmers.
At the moment, the nearest large animal vet is 2 hours (or 1.5 hours with a ferry ride) from my farm. For reasons that don't need going into, I refuse to use this vet, but if I did, the expense would be well above the replacement value of the sheep. The last time my friend used this vet, the cost was in the neighbourhood of $6,000 for a $200 animal. The treatment was a $6 'ewe spoon' and 10 minutes training on how to use it. It also included a farm visit which was half the fee because the distance is so far... but still, an expencive bit of plastic.
When I first started, I had three large animal vets within in 10 minutes of my home. Since then, they have all retired or decided to focus on dogs and cats (where the money is).
I have no veterinarian in my area who can care for my sheep and other animals. This is a huge concern to me as I feel that the health and well-being of the animals is the most important part of being a fibre farmer. If the animal is healthy and happy, then their fibre will be of top quality.
When I first decided to keep these animals, I first spent a lot of time reading library books and learned the basics of identifying and preventing most ailments. I also sought out local farmers and choose the ones that had the healthiest animals. I made these people my mentors and learned everything I could from them. They are my first source of help when things go wrong, and most often they know more than the vet since these farmers have more experience dealing with day to day issues than the vet.
Before I got my own sheep, I spent 18 months caring for another farmer's flock, including two lambing seasons. I learned how to identify which sheep need what care before they got sick. Little things like identifying the difference between mineral deficiencies and a worm overload. How to assist with lambing, when not to. How to alter their diet at different times of the year. I learned to listen to my sheep and let them tell me what they need to be healthy. According to my gurus, my former vets, and my sheerer, my sheep are some of the healthiest around.
I had planned to increase my flock size, but without access to affordable and local veterinary care, I won't. I know enough now to tend this many sheep and keep them healthy, tending to emergency care and all that. But I'm not yet confident enough to keep a larger flock without the backup of a veterinarian.
A farmer who made me sad:
I got into an argument with a farmer once about sheep care. She had come to my farm to advise someone else about which sheep to buy. One of the questions she asked is "how many times a month do you worm your sheep?"
Worming sheep is basically using chemicals (not all that nice a chemical either) to remove any parasites that might be bothering your animals. Parasites can be internal or external, but we generally call them 'worms' and the meds 'wormer'. There are three legal anti-parasitics we can use in our area. Two of them are off-label (not tested for sheep) and one of those is dangerous to use on pregnant and nursing mothers. In our area, there is a huge resistance to these three anti-parasitics. Usually, when we give the medicine, it kills 95% of the worms. But now, because of the resistance, it only kills about 40% of the worms. This happens from using the wormer when it is not needed and if a flock is resistant to all three wormers, then the sheep suffer.
A better way is to reduce the use of the worm meds, use methods of prevention like diet and environment, and only use the worm meds when they are needed and only the type that is needed (when I had a vet, I always did a poop test before applying these drugs to make certain I used the right ones for the worms they had - I now have the kit to do my own test and am learning how). I have since learned that sheep are very good at telling you when they need this kind of medicine and I usually have one or two sheep that need medicine each year. Most of the others have what is called a 'sub-clinical worm load' which only damages them if they experience other stresses. My sheep tell me when they need something.
This is where the argument started. She was convinced that the only way to keep sheep healthy is to apply a double dose of anti-parasitic at least once a month (I have since learned that most commercial sheep farmers in my area apply this twice a year and still have trouble with resistance build up), but she does it more often because...long story... some is good, then more is better.
See what I mean? Different points of view.
Longer story, but the point is I really do think she thought she was giving her sheep the best possible care. Or at least the best possible care that she knew how.
I also think that if she had access to a vet, she is the kind of person who would listen to the voice of authority. She would see that the current situation is costing her lots of money and her sheep are not healthy. The vet could tell her what kind of environment, diet and minerals she could give her sheep to make them healthy and reduce the money she was spending on unnecessary chemicals.
Talking with former vets about livestock care in our area:
I'm very interested in talking to professionals and former professionals. One thing conversation that was enlightening was talking with a former vet who specialized in sheep care.
We talked about many things, but most of all what not having easy and affordable access to veterinary care meant for local farmers. In his opinion, many animals were suffering because the farmers didn't have access to what they needed. They didn't have the education or knowledge necessary for preventing small problems from growing into an urgent crisis. When this crisis happened, they didn't have a vet to treat the animal so the animal lived or died in suffering.
The ideal solution, he suggested, would be affordable and easy access to livestock veterinary care. Talking to other former vets, they say the same. They also said that there is nothing to encourage them to keep treating livestock. Between the cost, being on call 24 hours, and other issues, it made sense to stop.
What would a solution look like?
Could we entice more livestock vets to the area? I don't know how. But perhaps since this is an animal welfare issue, the local rescue agencies could become involved?
What about a clinic? A facility that offers free/affordable education in prevention as well as a small veterinary staff who specilaize in livestock? They could also provide more intense education for a fee. Maybe they also sell equipment like one gets from the wool growers co-op. Or perhaps in associatiaton with them? Instead of $6,000 for a ewe spoon, we could pay $6 and maybe $25 for a 10-minute demonstration on how to apply it?
This kind of educational facility would take a lot of pressure off the vets, not only would they not have to do the basic "this is a sheep, this is the head, this is the place where the milk comes out, it's not supposed to be blue" kind of conversation. The sheep and other farm animals would be healthier and the fibre a better quality.
Of all the things holding us back from having a thriving fibreshed, I really think this is the one that will make the most difference.
Barbara Johnstone wrote:Thank you for all of the information posted on this thread about the Vancouver Island Fibreshed. I have spoken with Lynda Drury of the Vancouver Island Fibreshed initiative, and have visited the new wool mill in Saanich. I am working on an article for Country Life in BC, and as a sheep producer (and fibre producer with a container full of wool) I am hopeful for anything that keeps us from wasting this resource. I would love to have a locally-woven rug or blanket, but as a farmer I do not have the time or skills. We all need to work together and support each other. Thanks again for such an informative thread.
If you have any questions about this, please feel free to ask.
I know I'm very opinionated about this topic, so take only what you find most useful.
I also think we are so close to having a thriving fibreshed in our area. There's a lot of people working on it from different directions and all these efforts are coming together to create something marvellous.
I worry that this thread is something of a downer - identifying problems and what we still need to do. But I hope by the end of it, we get to a point where we see there's so little left to do that we are practically there already - it's just a matter of putting the different pieces together and applying some glue.
Also, please let us know when the article comes out.
I'm also keen to work with some of the yarn from the local mill. If you have any fibre processed there, I would weave you a blanket in exchange for some yarn or at minimum wage. What I've been doing with another yarn producer is weaving two blankets with one warp. They provide the yarn and keep one blanket, and I keep the other as payment. Or something else might work for you. Feel free to PM me or talk about it more on this thread.
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