Do you love going to farmers markets? I do.
We habitually shopped at the Arlington (Virginia) farmers market when we lived there...too many years ago to mention. I loved the connection to farms and their products, and I tried to imagine what it would be like to be on the other side of the table. So be careful, you never know, you could turn into a farmer too 😁! And as an aside, I highly recommend visiting farmers markets when you travel. It is so interesting to see what grows in different places and seasons and meet the farmers.
Farmers markets are also what slowly enticed us from being a little homestead (my partner Joan and I bought the 10 acre farm, Solitude in 1992), only producing for ourselves, into a tiny farm selling garlic, honey and handspun wool yarn. Thanks to a Leesburg farmers market vendor, Trisha Adams, who persuaded me that I could do a market and let me share work with her, we slowly got into the rhythm of creating and selling. It is A LOT of work. Please have awe for the vendors at markets! Especially the produce vendors.
I'm not sure what year, 2003 or 2004?, we were really lucky to get into the Dupont FreshFarm market because they were looking for a wool vendor. I was spinning yarn like a mad woman all week to try and fill a couple tables with handspun yarn (I had very colorful tablecloths and baskets to visually fill the space back then) and sales were great, so I would spin madly again.
In 2006, the farm I was leasing to graze/house more sheep was sold and I shrunk back to our small farm that can only accommodate a few sheep and goats. I didn’t want to stop making yarn, but eight sheep cannot sustain a yarn business. Sue Bundy and I, who knew each other from the Loudoun Valley Sheep Producers Association, decided to start working together. We both had the idea to buy fleece from local farms (we knew it was going to waste) and creating different breed specific yarns with help from small custom mills. Sue agreed to keep the Solitude brand I had been building and our friend Dave Wiseman wisely advised us to change the name to Solitude Wool.
I was worried that our only sales outlet, producer only farmers markets, wouldn't let us sell the yarn since we were buying fleece from other farms. Thank you to Bernie Prince and Ann Yonkers, the co-founders and Directors of FreshFarm Markets for allowing us to continue at the Dupont market. Without that sales outlet and experience, I don't think we would have kept going. There just was NO market for breed-specific yarn.
When we started, we put up signs for each yarn with the name of the breed. No one had a clue what those words meant. This was particularly difficult in democratic Washington DC in the years 2008 and 2012 when Mitt was running for President... 🙃. We’ve been talking about sheep breeds, how their wool differs and what each one is best for, ever since. But things in the knitting world have come A LONG WAY in the last 16 years! There is much more knowledge and appreciation for sheep of many breeds. As Kim says “please share the love with different breeds, not just Merino” (although I'm a big fan of Merino manufactured clothing like base layers).
So, I'll stop this reminiscence here...but although I'm really hoping for a warm December (at least on the weekends) I am so looking forward to going back to the market! Hope we see you there, but if you are far away, look for our online special each weekend for those of you who can’t get to our booth.
photo caption: Sue Bundy, ready for the first sale at the Dupont FreshFarm market, winter 2006
second photo: our very first mill spun yarn, a woolen spun Romney. It was so exciting to have so much yarn!