Family Farm and Fleece Day, hosted by the Tennessee Valley Women in Agriculture March 30 at the Alabama A&M Agribition Center, offered a myriad of demonstrations, exhibits, classes, workshops and activities complementing each other akin to the multi-colored strands of fiber in a magnificent, woven tapestry and meshed together to show the big picture of agriculture.
The Tennessee Valley Women in Agriculture’s purposes in hosting the event included introducing the public to agriculture, portraying the diversity of agriculture, and promoting local agriculture, said Roo Kline, vice president.
Attendees entered into the magical world of fiber arts and had the opportunity to admire and purchase beautiful, intricate pieces, and learn about the different types of fiber arts and all aspects of their creation.
As owner of an alpaca fiber studio Moonwood Farm, Kline creates luxurious handcrafted alpaca spinning fibers and embellishments, and her fine work was available for purchase.She co-founded Alpaca Fiber Solutions, Inc. with business partner Elizabeth Taylor to teach alpaca owners what to do with their fiber.
Family Farm and Fleece Day provided invaluable fiber arts skills and knowledge through classes covering knitting for beginners, tri-loom weaving and drop spindling, and through cotton-spinning and historical wool-processing demonstrations.
In the tri-loom weaving class, attendees used a triangular-shaped loom and alpaca yarn to make a tiny shawl with fringe.
The beginning knitting class targeted those who had never knitted before and entailed learning a simple knit and purl stitch.
In the drop spindling class, attendees learned how to spin and ply roving to make a yarn.
Another class taught attendees how to make soap using the cold-process method.
Kim Depp, owner of Pawsitive Plantation in Summerville, Ga., showcased her Pygora goats.
"Pygora goats were originally started in 1984," Depp said. "They are a cross between an Angora goat and a Pygmy goat … The idea at the time was to try to make them a shorter (smaller) breed."
The fact that Pygora goats can have three different fiber types ranging from Angora fiber to one as soft as cashmere was not realized in the beginning, Depp expounded. An advantage of owning Pygora goats is they keep the same good quality and softness of their fleece their entire lives. All three fiber types were represented by the three goats of Depp’s exhibit.
Depp has bred sheep and Angora goats for over 20 years, but just started raising Pygora goats over a year ago.
"So this is a new venture for us and we’re just getting our first babies on the ground," she said. "It’s a lot of fun. They are very easy to manage."
She knew about the Pygora breed and their exceptional fleece and went looking for the best Pygora goats in the country and had them shipped from a breeder in Oregon.
She said finding the right breed to raise is a matter of trial and error. After 20 years and raising a lot of breeds, she finally found the right breed for her. Her advice for prospective owners is to research as much as possible.
"Keep getting as much information as you can and talk to people, but the bottom line - go with your own gut, what feels right to you."
Depp ventured into spinning and weaving by accident.
"Everything started with one fiber bunny," she said. "I had an Angora bunny almost 25 years ago, and gradually it ended up being all of this. We spin, we weave, we knit - we do it all."
Vicki Ramsey of Huntsville, a member of Tennessee Valley Women in Agriculture who spins, crochets and weaves cotton, educated attendees about cotton and its use in fiber arts with her display.
She has been crocheting as long as she can remember since she learned the skill from her grandmother. In addition, she has been spinning around seven or eight years.
She said some spinners shy away from using cotton because the length of each fiber is so much shorter than wool.
"It’s really not hard to spin, it’s just different," she said. "Nine to 10 plants will provide enough cotton for a year."
Her display highlighted the fact that cotton does come in different colors. The commercial cotton industry has stuck with white because it dyes any color, she explained. She is trying to keep the colored cottons alive, which almost died out at one time. Colored cotton is being produced more due to some good efforts.
She was pleased many children visited her display and started making a connection about where their clothing and food originates, and expressed interest in fiber art.
She touched upon the importance and reward of being involved in fiber arts.
"It’s not practical to think you can clothe yourself, but it is keeping some of the old traditional arts alive and they’re just wonderful to do. There is such a wonderful fiber community, too."
The Rocket City Rabbit Club organized the event’s rabbit show. About 90 individual exhibitors and their families including adults and youth participated.
"In total, close to 1,000 rabbits were judged across all shows," Show Superintendent Kim Ringenbach said. "We had a total of four shows yesterday as typically there is what is called a ‘Double Open, Double Youth Show.’ This means adults and kids can show twice under different judges in the same day."
Twenty-seven different breeds of rabbits were represented in the open shows and 15 were represented in the youth shows.
Rabbit shows are governed by the American Rabbit Breeders Association and "The Standard of Perfection," a book listing all of the specifications for showing rabbits, is published every couple of years with updates, Ringenbach explained.
Nearly 50 breeds of rabbits are accepted and all judged based on their standard.
"The ones who are in the best condition and meet their standard best are chosen, and the top winners may be chosen out of that," she said. "After all the breeds are judged, rabbits who win Best of Breed go up and compete for Best in Show against all of the other breed winners."
The Alabama Sustainability Agriculture Network was represented by its Statewide Coordinator Alice Evans. ASAN is an independent grass-roots network of mostly farmers along with other people who are involved in food-related work such as educators, chefs, consumers and those who work with cooperative extension. ASAN connects people to teach each other and maintains a vision to support family farmers across the state through efforts ranging from on-farm workshops and trainings to social aspects such as creating a community around local food.
Evans was glad to see a lot of families and children attending.
A baking contest and sale was another feature of the day. Lee Bryer won the blue ribbon in the pie category of the baking contest as well as the Mayor’s Choice ribbon.
According to Kline, next year, Family Farm and Fleece Day will be a two-day event with more classes, which will be held for longer durations.
Jade Currid is a freelance writer from Auburn.