New England Farm to Fiber
When thinking about local farms, we almost always think of food first - CSA's, local milk and cheese, pick your own fruit, farm to table dinners, etc. But many New England farmers are using their resources to produce other high quality products to sell along side their harvest. Case in point - wool fiber.
New England Farm to Fiber is a recent addition to the Boston Public Market and specializes in working with local farmers to source and bring to market single heritage sheep wool for hand knitting. One touch of this amazing wool will inspire you to start a new knitting project - or even learn to knit! With it's fresh from the farm faint lanolin scent and beautiful array of natural colors, it represents some of the best our farms have to offer.
I spent some time with owner Genevieve Day to learn more about her vision for "farm yarn"...
We often associate local farm production with food, but other valuable things are also coming from New England farms like wool. How does New England Farm to Fiber promote these unique products?
Yes, it’s interesting that while the local food movement has been growing in visibility over the years, the local yarn movement is only just now starting to catch up. When I opened my first business - JP Knit & Stitch - there was so much less awareness of where yarn was coming from. Six years later, there are customers that now walk into our shop and ask for the local yarn.
What inspired you to start New England Farm to Fiber?
I was inspired to start New England Farm to Fiber when I made my first visit to the Boston Public Market. I had been really excited about the opening of the BPM because I love to cook and I love working with locally grown ingredients. I had been following the development of the Market over the years (my husband and I had actually been to an early fundraiser for the BPM when it was in it’s earliest stage of development) so was super excited when it finally opened and in such a great location. From the moment I walked in the doors I loved it - and then as I started walking around, I noticed, among all the beautiful local vegetables, fruits, meats, flowers, fish - a few non food vendors, a wooden bowl stall and a stone workers stall. The idea came to me very quickly that what this market needed was that other (wonderful warm wooly) output from the farm: fiber! At that point I had been running a full service yarn + fabric shop in a neighborhood of Boston for five years, I had some experience with “farm yarns,” but I wasn’t sure that I could source enough high quality wool from farms to make the business work. I decided to do some research and work on a business plan and see where it took me.
Can you explain how you work with local New England farmers?
The yarns that we offer at New England Farm to Fiber are yarns that are simply not available outside of regional sheep and wool and fiber festivals. Every single yarn that we carry is from a farm where we have developed an individual relationship with. I travel periodically around the region visiting farms and festivals and always seeking out the highest quality farm yarns for hand knitters that I can find. For the most part, none of these fibers are available in any knitting shop or retail environment except New England Farm to Fiber. Our farmers are excited to be able to showcase their yarns right in the heart of downtown Boston. The BPM gets visitors and tourists from all over the world - I see our presence at the Market as a way to educate people on ALL of the splendor and bounty of the New England farm community including its fiber.
What is single heritage sheep yarn? What makes it special?
What I love about single heritage sheep is the incredible diversity in look, feel, and “hand” of the fiber from different sheep breeds. Single heritage sheep is such a cool thing. Everyone knows what Merino is - a high quality wool, often associated with fine Italian sweaters. Merino is a specific sheep breed - with extremely soft fiber (Merino sheep produce less fleece than other sheep breeds hence it is considered a luxury commodity). Merino as an example is very different from other sheep breeds, such as Icelandic sheep, or Romney Sheep, or Cormo sheep - there are hundreds of sheep breeds and a huge variety in sheep that are bred for their fibers.
Why is "farm yarn" appealing to hand knitters and are there any new trends in this area?
People love “farm yarns” for many of the same reasons that people are committed to locally grown food: it’s sustainable, it has a low carbon footprint, it’s all natural. New England Farm to Fiber specializes in natural fibers - wool that is undyed, all natural. The range of color within the natural world of sheep fibers is absolutely stunning - from the deepest darkest brown through soft camels to wondrous grays that verge on lavender to lustrous rich creams and whites. The range of color of the neutral, all natural, palette is pretty stunning. I guess what's so exciting for me is the diversity within the world of single heritage sheep fibers. A very cool trend I’ve seen is blending of single heritage sheep into one-of-a kind mixes - we carry a few yarns from farmers that are blending their wool from different breeds within their own flocks. A good example of this is our Vermont-based Wing & A Prayer farm “Thelma & Louise” blend. It is a gorgeous and unique blend of Shetland sheep wool with Mohair Goat fiber - very light and silvery in color, very dense and strong and warm, it is perfect for knitting shawls and sweaters. A growing trend in the farm yarn and knitting world is knitting designers that are now collaborating directly with farmers to design patterns developed for specific sheep breeds and blends. One such designer is Beatrice Perron Dahl who designs under the name of Thread & Ladle. We carry kits at the shop for a lovely shawl called The Gentle Ewe Shawl that she designed specifically for Thelma & Louise yarn. We are working with other New England based designers to develop more patterns for our farm yarns.
What can someone expect to find at your stall at Boston Public Market?
The most beautiful yarns that they have ever touched or knitted with along with a lesson in all of the variety in the farm yarn world! We love when someone comes to our stall and we can put in their hands a skein of Greenwood Hill Farm Merino from Central Mass and compare it to say, a skein of Icelandic sheep wool from Gallery Pan Terra Farm, just about an hour away, and see the differences - indensity, in look, in feel - of the two skeins. We might have them hold a skein of our Savage Hart Farm Cormo sheep wool (from Southern New Hampshire) and it’s just as soft and lofty and light as the Merino, though from a much less well known sheep breed to the wider public. I really believe part of our mission of New England Farm to Fiber at the BPM is to educate people on the beauty, diversity, and versatility of farm fibers.
If someone was just learning to knit and wanted to do a project using farm yarn, how would you recommend they start?
We are in the process of developing a “Learn to Knit” kit using fiber from one of our favorite partner farms from Maine called “farm blend.” It’s a wonderful worsted weight yarn that is primarily Romney Sheep fleece but with a little added alpaca fiber for softness - it knits up quickly and is perfect for the beginning knitter. We have taught many, many people to knit at our Jamaica Plain shop and we are bringing that knowledge to our farm yarn stall at the BPM. All of our staff at the New England Farm to Fiber stall would be happy to help recommend a first project for a new knitter. It’s great when we can start people out on their knitting journey using a local yarn from a New England farm. Our motto is #shoplocal #knitlocal #lovelocal.
Visit Genevieve's shop in Jamaica Plain
JP Knit & Stitch
461 Centre St.
Jamaica Plain, MA
Special thanks to Katy and sheep pictured above from
Tree House Farms in Millis, MA.
Photos: Melissa DiPalma