Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Farm Visit: Spirit Walk Farms

Sheep aren't known for their ability to follow directions. These cuddly, sweet-faced creatures are determined to surge in the exact opposite direction you've asked them to follow. Not surprisingly, sheering day tends to be a whirlwind of stress, dust and fleece.

Knowing all this didn't dampen my excitement when Marg Quarrie of Spirit Walk Farm invited me to join for their fall sheering this past Thanksgiving. Marg's herd of 42 ewes combines the softness of Romney and Dorset fleece with the hardiness of the Rideau Arcott (a hardiness needed to survive the Grey County winter). Having worked with Spirit Walk yarns in the past, I was excited to see the animals that produced these natural and rustic fibers.

The stable was abuzz with activity when I arrived. Hopping over partitions and around the sheerer, I was admittedly a tad over-whelmed. But amongst the bleating sheep and buzz of the clippers, was Marg - a soft-spoken farmer with an obvious affection for her "girls".

Marg at the Skirting Table.
Marg and her husband Gord established Spirit Walk Farm 18 years ago after deciding to exit urban living in Cambridge. In Marg's words they moved north and "never looked back". Spirit Walk is an intentionally small mixed operation focused on maintaining a intimate connection with the land and animals. Housed in an old bank barn, the farm includes their ewes, milking goats, 3 angoras and laying hens for the house. 

Fleece laid out on the Skirting Table.
Marg waved me over to the skirting table, a framed metal screen set up on trestles, where the freshly shorn fleece is spread out and evaluated. As we chatted Marg showed me how to pick out the burrs and chaff, where to find the "poopy" sections to be removed and what to look for when assessing a fleece. She moved fast but thoughtfully, sorting the fleeces into boxes according to their grade.

As the ewes were encouraged into the sheering bay, Marg spoke softly to her girls, convincing them to move toward the sheerer even as they swirled around her.   She commented on each ewe entering the sheering bay, noting the ewe's history and evolution of her fleece. When a deep chocolate Romney entered the bay, Marg's skilled eye already knew that "this will be a beautiful fleece" far before it was spread out on the skirting table.

Working at the skirting table brings your attention to the subtly of colour and texture that each staple of fleece contains. Moving around the table, picking out bits and looking for matting, reveals how the colour of a fleece changes from darker to lighter as it grows away from the ewe's body. On that chilly morning I could feel the warmth of the ewe still held in the fleece. It was easy to imagine the potential coziness of a sweater knit up from Spirit Walk yarns.

Marg's utility fleeces (those not suitable for roving or yarn) are sent to MacAuslan's in PEI where they are made into blankets (I purchased a MacAuslan Blanket during an East Coast trip a few years ago - a very wise investment for camping in Cape Breton). The finer fleeces are milled at Wellington Fibers in Elora and returned to Marg as rovings and yarns. Spirit Walk fibers are refreshingly simple in their natural colours. Their rustic textures conjure up memories of apple cider, warm sweaters and wood smoke.

Spirit Walk Roving
As Marg and I went through the roving she had assembled for me to bring back to the city, she named each ewe, discussing the nuances of their fibers and their personalities. Like Kaitlyn at Applegarth Alpaca Farm, the connection between Marg and her girls was clear. Even amongst the chaos of sheering, Marg relished the fibers grown by these remarkable animals.

Spirit Walk Yarn
I left Spirit Walk Farm confidant in my decision to apply Craftivism to my fiber arts. It feels great knowing that my designs support farmers like Marg who are dedicated to producing sustainable, high quality fibers from sheep to needle. Who knew that knitting could create positive social change in our local economies and communities?

Spirit Walk Farm Fibers and Yarns can be purchased at:

Peace Flag House Fiber Arts
568 Jane Street,
Toronto, ON
By Appointment


Spirit Walk Farm
Marg & Gord Quarrie
327104 Conc. Rd. 3,
N0C 1J0

Flesherton Farmer's Market
Flesherton Arena Parking Lot
Saturdays, 8am - 1pm
Victoria Day Weekend, May to
Thanksgiving Weekend, October

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