Even the most casual reader of local news in the Hudson Valley can’t miss the increasing emphasis on farm-to-table eating, whether we’re talking restaurants buying from local farmers in a mutually supportive relationship or individuals encouraged to seek out the locally grown varieties of fruits and veggies available from farmers’ markets to prepare at home. This is a good thing. But what about extending that “buy local and sustain your neighborhood farms while making your own life better” philosophy beyond the dinner table? There are regional farms worthy of supporting who may not feed our families, but who feed our creative souls: places like White Barn Farm Sheep & Wool on Albany Post Road in Gardiner.
Its owner, Paula Kucera, raises sheep – 18 of them at last count, mostly Cormos, with two rams expected to join the flock within days. The new rams were chosen for the color of their fleece and its effect on the color of the yarn that they’ll produce, says Kucera. One ram will be a Cormo, the other a California Red, whose fleece ranges in color from apricot to “Irish Setter red,” which, according to Kucera, will blend beautifully with the Cormo fleece into a lovely yarn.
Knitters know that while natural-fiber yarns can be dyed a multitude of colors, often using plant materials to produce the hues, sometimes the color of the wool just as it came from the sheep is beautiful left as it is. At the fiber shop that Kucera runs at White Barn Farm, where she carries a variety of yarns spun from her sheep and other local sources, there are colors of yarn available that just couldn’t have been achieved in any commercial dye bath. One yarn in particular is a subtle shade of brown best described as dark chocolate crossed with oatmeal; it’s an earthy, rich brown wool, straight from the sheep that produced it, and so lovely that it practically begs for you to take it up and knit with it. Once you obey its siren song and pick it up, it’s so soft to the touch that the tactile pleasure of it makes it hard to put it down.
Cormo sheep are known for their incredibly soft fleece. Once people feel the difference in working with hand-spun natural yarns rather than the processed ones from the craft store, Kucera says, “They never want to turn back. There’s also a spiritual connection with the sheep and knowing where the yarn came from.”
Kucera’s background is in the arts, with 25 years of experience as a mural-painter in the interior design industry. After moving to the farm in New Paltz about 16 years ago, she decided to raise sheep there, and that led to opening the fiber shop on the property in 2010. Now the extensive handcrafting community that exists in the Hudson Valley has not only a place to find the materials with which to fashion their fiber arts, but also a gathering spot: Kucera offers her space twice weekly for informal “Knit Local Café” sessions free of charge for anyone who cares to drop by with a project to work on.