Last weekend I was a visitor at the New York Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY with my friends from NYC, Lysa & Hazel. We’re three peas in a pod with our enthusiasm for animals and fiber, art & food so we thoroughly enjoyed time together cooing over our new fascination, Paco-Vicuñas, sheep & goats of all breeds, a Spitters Club parade and Border Collie demonstrations. I so enjoyed being a tourist and meeting other farmers, getting the low-down on their experiences, fondling fiber for 8 hours, treating ourselves to roving & yarn that we didn’t really need (hello – I have a farm with 40+ fiber animals!) The wind was biting outside, but the foliage was brilliant and the bluebird sky made for a bright and cheery day. Besides, there was a hot cider/hot chocolate booth that the 4-H was running and indoor viewing/shopping, so there was ample opportunity for warm-ups. I made no attempt to curb my excitement about attending, so in retrospect, I should ask Lysa & Hazel’s forgiveness for having to endure my prattle about the this and the that from the first to final steps. We finished our time together in agreement that the best pizza we’d ever had was at Posto Pizzeria, where we warmed up from the inside out, before departing our separate routes home.
For ten years I have been a member of the Vermont Sheep & Goat Association which annually hosts the Sheep & Wool Festival in Tunbridge, VT. A considerably smaller affair than Rhinebeck, but no less perfect. The week prior to the NY Festival, we participated for our first time and had a vendor booth where we hoped to sell our farm’s fiber. I had been working on arranging and staging our products under my farmers’ market tent in the barnyard beforehand with the aid of my good friends Meleen & John Dupre’s lovely antique furnishings as props.
Staying up all hours of the nights dotting i’s and crossing t’s, I scavenged more props from friends, located every last skein of yarn and fluff of roving, packaged and labeled and weighed and measured.
The forecast was potentially sketchy. I’d anticipated complications so went a day early to set up before the rain. My friend Debbie & her daughter Robin met me to lend a hand. Both were going to be participating in the festival for workshops and teaching, so they’d also arrived early to deliver their equipment.
As I neared the fairgrounds, my phone rang and it was Robin. She & Debbie were coaching me about the proper entrance to park and unload. I laughed out loud when they told me to be looking for two sexy girls in white t-shirts near the gate with the sheep signs on it. Sure enough, I pulled around the corner in my overfull truck and there were my 50-something & 70-something mother & daughter team, waving and waving! I pointed my precarious load down the hilly entrance, my public radio station struck up Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird” and I fell into procession behind another farmer whose vanity plates read “WOOL.” A strong beginning.
It took about an hour for the three of us to unload and set up. Daylight was waning and I sent Debbie & Robin on their way so they could get home before dark. They had a 45 minute commute over the mountains. I still had to enter my fleeces into the fleece judging contest and then zip my tent down for the night.
The next day when I’d seen the two of them, I mentioned to Robin that I woke up at 3 that morning, ready to go. I was so excited that I could not sleep and just wanted to get there. Robin told me that apparently her mom had done the same thing. For 23 out of the 26 years of the Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival, Debbie had had a vendor booth selling her mittens, Mohair rovings, and yarn. This was the first year she wasn’t setting up a booth.
There were characters of all types – extreme fiber enthusiasts, apologizing fiber-stash junkies, farmers, wanna-be farmers, happy go lucky visitors from all over the place. I met a neat woman who sells custom coats for sheep out of her gypsy caravan-style tiny house that she uses for sleeping in as well as selling goods from. I think it would have also made a great chicken coop. I watched a tiny bit of the border collie sheep dog demos. I got to enjoy a goat cart that paraded the fairgrounds for both days.
It’s fun to speculate and complain and enthuse about the weather. And there was all of that in the weekend’s event. We only had a rainy Saturday, but I got to hear about the past 26 years worth of weather from seasoned veterans. It could’ve poured the entire weekend. It could’ve been blowing like the dickens. We could’ve had a hurricane. We could’ve had snow!
There are too many animals at home to leave unattended to try to stay over somewhere local to the festival and I would’ve been stressed being away from them for an entire day. I’m a hardy soul and don’t mind being a road-warrior when I have to be, so I commuted back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Next year I’d just as soon sleep over in my booth, better yet, bring my animals with me and stay in the barn there.
Delivering the goods, folks. For fiber products we’ve got the most gorgeous alpaca felt, Mohair rovings, Shetland yarn, Shetland fleeces, raw fibers for spinning, yarn for knitting and rug-hooking, and felting fiber for needle & wet felting fiber arts. Char’s exquisite and detailed aprons made the trip, some kits for D.I.Y. crafters, a little bit of this and that.
I was thrilled to sell Debbie’s thrummed mittens in our booth. After all, they are made from our Shetland fiber and her/our Angora Goats’ fiber. They are representative of our farm’s fiber, though it is her skill & energy that puts together the finished product. The mittens flew off the shelves in the first hour of the Festival’s opening.
Char & Jim were around to swap shifts on the farm to help with the animals and to come and assist me so I wouldn’t have to sit cross-legged with my commuter cups of coffee all weekend. Char panics a bit when you put her in charge of sales transactions. With an audience, she becomes like a deer-in-headlights and can’t add 1 + 1. What happens, usually, is that the customer tries to help her out and then she will become more embarrassed than when she started. So mostly I sent her out to forage for us – “Char, can you get us something hot to drink?” “Char, go see the Border Collie demos and come back and tell me about it!” “Char, how about checking out the maple cotton candy?” I was grateful for the help and the positive energy. It goes a long way on a 10-hour shift in the rain.
I had insecurities: What if it poured and no one visited our booth? What if we weren’t competitively priced because we’re too small of an operation? What if we went home with everything we arrived with? What if something happened to the animals while I was away? Would my wool entries into the fleece judging contest be laughed at, scoffed at? Would I be accepted by the others or would I be mocked for my small fiber farm? Would I be taken seriously or would the other farmers/vendors think my farm was a farce? What if, what if, what if?
The answers to those questions were that yes, it poured, but folks still visited our booth. We were most certainly competitively priced, but we were a small operation in the scheme of things. We did not go home with everything we arrived with. Nothing happened to the animals while I was away. And,
We won TWO ribbons in the fleece judging contest!
Little 5 month old Royal won 3rd place for his beautiful dark moorit fleece and Bunny, my loud but gorgeous 2 ½ year old Shetland ewe, won Class Champion for her amazing and ample fleece.