Sharing Life with Rare Sheep, and Loving It
How many of us could honestly say of our life work, "I'm addicted to what I'm doing, so I'm going to keep doing it no matter what." These are the enthusiastic words of Lisa Westervelt, from Cranberry Moon Farm in western Massachusetts. Westervelt raises rare breeds of sheep, spins wool, teaches classes, weaves, brokers wool for other farmers - and is taken with it all.
After working for some years with larger animals in a dairy operation, Westervelt was pleased to find how well sheep suited her. The size of the animals, their usefulness, and the daily and yearly cycles of the work appeal to her: "These are amazing animals - there's no end to the useful things that they provide. I love the ritual of chores - it's very centering and connected to the Earth."
Soon after starting to work with sheep and their wool about a decade ago, Westervelt decided to focus on longwool breeds for her breeding program. Longwools are known for having plenty of lustrous wool, with a long, strong fiber. The wool is easy to spin and is especially valued by weavers. Four years ago, Westervelt committed to breeding a rare type of sheep once kept by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the Leicester Longwool. This breed was developed in the 18th century; its wool qualities made it valuable in crossing with other breeds and it became very popular. The rise in manufacturing, though, eventually signaled the decline of the Leicester. Wool destined for large machines needs to have short fibers rather than long. By 1900, there were no purebred animals left in the United States. In the last 15 years, an effort has been made to bring them back, and now there are an estimated 400 animals in the U.S. (including 15 at Cranberry Moon), and 1500 worldwide.
Westervelt found LocalHarvest.org through a farmer friend, and joined about a year ago. She appreciated the philosophy of the site, and was especially glad to find a way to sell her products on-line without having to set up the financial aspects on her own web site. We've been pleased to see that so many people (including many from the West Coast where wool is not as available) are finding Cranberry Moon's products; it's quickly become one of our best-selling wools.
After a lot of hard work, Westervelt feels that her efforts are paying off. What's ahead for Cranberry Moon Farm? Recently she was asked to sell her products at a local retail shop, where she will also be teaching spinning classes. She sees that the community in her area is increasingly supportive of artisans and small-scale farmers, and this makes her hopeful for her own business and the way of life she values. Long live the Leicester Longwools!
Photo: Cranberry Moon Farm