photos by Paige Green

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For Ariana Strozzi and Casey Mazzucchi, partners in both business and life, ranching has been a lifelong pursuit. Ariana grew up on the Marin coast, and has been working on ranches since she was seven. Casey was born and raised on a sheep ranch in Valley Ford, property that has been in his family for four generations. Though they lived within the same coastal watershed for over two decades, it was less than two years ago that Ariana and Casey met, and from their partnership a new community resource has emerged. Their Valley Ford Mercantile & Wool Mill is now operating in downtown Valley Ford (population 126), within the beautiful countryside of the Estero Americano watershed on the border of Marin and Sonoma Counties.

mercantile

Fibershed visited Ariana at the Wool Mill recently, and woven through the conversation was her passion for connecting people with nature and land, and her desire to awaken people to healthier, more sustainable ways of living. Initially this was manifest through Ariana’s innovative work with horses, which she developed into Equine Guided Education (EGE), a form of interacting with horses as a means of “getting back in touch with our curious, imaginative self, connecting to what has heart and meaning, and creating new perspectives for living our life on purpose.”

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Skyhorse Ranch, the home of Ariana’s EGE programs, was established twenty-five years ago, but it wasn’t until around 2002 that she began raising sheep. At the time Ariana didn’t know what to do with the wool, but she soon discovered the health benefits of wool products when she purchased a wool bed from Shepherd’s Dream. Ariana was so impressed with the wool bed that she decided to use her own wool to make products such as comforters, mattress pads and pillows. And the more Ariana learned about the qualities of wool (naturally fire-retardant and antimicrobial, so it doesn’t mold or mildew or attract dust mites), as well as the problems of waste and chemicals being used in the bedding industry at present, the more she felt an urgency to create healthy products.

sheep-batts

Because the few wool mills in Northern California had a long lead time on orders, and not wanting to increase the wool’s carbon footprint by shipping it great distances for processing, Ariana took a big leap of faith and purchased a spacious old building in Valley Ford—just down the road from Skyhorse Ranch—with the intention of starting a wool mill with Casey, who shares the same interests and values. In 2013, Ariana and Casey were ready to get the mill up and running, and with the assistance of textile engineer Keith Wild, they found the equipment they needed to get started.

carding-machine

Last July, a carding machine from Ohio and a 15,000-pound needle-felting loom from North Carolina—dubbed Big Blue—arrived on the scene, and the Valley Ford Mercantile & Wool Mill was born! Wool products that are made in the Mill and sold at the Mercantile (with the assistance of two employees) include bedding products filled with healthy wool batting from the sheep at Skyhorse Ranch, as well as mattresses on custom order, and a variety of felt goods, from clothing to rugs to felt yardage that designers are snapping up for their creations. A notable example of a garment made with felt yardage from the Mill is the “Wool Warrior in Love” by Hiroko Kurihara and Sabrina Fair, featured in last December’s Fibershed Fashion Gala.

needle-loom

In addition to processing the wool from their own flock—comprised of Dorset, Navajo-Churro, and Shetland sheep—Ariana and Casey receive wool from producers throughout the area, which they wash and card, and sometimes needle felt, depending on the needs of the customer. They are providing much-needed services for local wool growers, and soon the mill will be bringing in spinning equipment so that they can also create worsted yarn, from sport weight to bulky.

Although large machinery plays an important role at the Mill, handwork is also very much in evidence. Ariana has been a seamstress since youth and is also a visual artist, so she is delighted to combine her abilities in the creation of wool garments and decorative wall hangings and rugs. In addition, Ariana has begun to knit with yarn that she and Casey hand spin, and a natural dye garden is in the plans to augment the beautiful natural colors of their wool. Ariana’s creations are for sale in the Mercantile, along with the work of about 20 other fiber artists, as well as raw and processed fiber from other local farms and ranches.

sewing-ariana

Continually increasing their knowledge and skill base, Ariana, Casey, and Ariana’s son, Jack, have enrolled in the Wool Classing School taking place this month in Hopland. And Jack, who helps with the animals on the ranch and has plans to study Ag business when he starts college this fall, will be attending Sheep Shearing School as well.

The feeling of community is evident at Valley Ford Mercantile & Wool Mill, and on May 17-18 the community will be coming together for the mill’s First Annual Wool Festival. In addition to educational demonstrations—from shearing and wool classing to spinning and weaving—local wool producers and artisans will be selling their wares. There will even be a Fleece Marketplace, run by the mill staff, selling wool and yarn on consignment. (If you are an artisan or wool producer, interesting in having a booth or selling on consignment, please contact Ariana@valleyfordwoolmill.com.) Fibershed plans to join in the celebration, and we hope to see you there!

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Thank you, Ariana and Casey, for all that you bring to the community!

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4 Responses to Blending Local Wool & Community in Valley Ford

  1. Carol Harper says:

    Love the site especially the photos.

  2. Emilia says:

    Wow! What an incredible place!! So wonderful. And, such a great story.. seems perfectly meant to be and such a great addition to the area. Can’t wait to see the yarns & natural dye garden. Ariana is such an inspiration!!

  3. Former Naval Person says:

    Super resource for the Marin Coast folks, both suppliers and users !! Keep it growing please !

  4. Reirin Gumbel says:

    This is wonderful! We really needed a local wool processing place. I am still heavily involved in Zen practice at Green Gulch Farm, but will soon start to branch out and offer my favorite workshops about Crafts as Spiritual Practice. I am itching to spin and weave again!

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Love this story of local production we came across from Thistle Hill Weavers in Upstate New York, who writes:
"The total area involved is maybe 180 miles from one place to another. The ability to have small amounts of yarn custom spun and custom woven is a luxury for local fiber producers and for the customers who buy these items.
They are not inexpensive. In fact, my grandfather would have called them "dear". But using local labor is one of the more important parts of this process to me as a mill owner.Its not just the producing, its the employment........and the retaining of some of the profit in the hands of the farmer."
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We talk a lot about sustainability and locally produced but we have a truly luxiouried ability to do that in Upstate New York. This is the warp for a local shetland sheep farm that is also a co-op in the Hudson Valley. Sheep were shorn, fiber sent to Battenkill Fibers in New York and we are weaving throws and scarves that will be sold by the co-op. The total area involved is maybe 180 miles from one place to another. The ability to have small amounts of yarn custom spun and custom woven is a luxury for local fiber producers and for the customers who buy these items. They are not inexpensive. In fact, my grandfather would have called them "dear". But using local labor is one of the more important parts of this process to me as a mill owner.Its not just the producing, its the employment........and the retaining of some of the profit in the hands of the farmer.

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Next week, find Fibershed producers, including Twirl Yarn, HIJK, Casari Ranch, Bodega Pastures, Sonoma Wool Company and more at the 6th annual National Heirloom Exposition at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, CA.
What began in 2011 as a celebration of pure food and sustainable living has become the world’s largest annual heritage food event. Thousands of people come from around the world to the Expo to celebrate traditional crops, foods, seeds, poultry, and livestock. Details below!
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The 6th Annual National Heirloom Exposition

September 6, 2016, 10:00am - September 8, 2016, 9:00pm

Welcome to the 6th annual National Heirloom Exposition. What began in 2011 as a celebration of pure food and sustainable living has become the world’s largest annual heritage farm and garden event. Thousands of people come from around the world to the Expo to celebrate traditional crops, foods, seeds, poultry, and livestock. Featuring the largest display of heirloom produce, many small gardeners and large farmers supply an abundance of fruits and vegetables for exhibiting and tasting. More than 350 related and like-minded vendors include seed companies, tool companies, accessories, food, produce, garden products, and much more. We welcome individuals, school groups, musicians, volunteers, speakers, musicians, chef demonstrations, and many more. The fun and educational activities are sure to influence the way people view food and our sustainable future. We have an outstanding line up of more than 75 nationally and internationally known food, farm and garden speakers that will impress even the most discerning. Visitors are entertained all day with old-time traditional music. The National Heirloom Exposition has always been and continues to be a not-for-profit event with all proceeds above expenses being donated to local school and educational garden projects. theheirloomexpo.com/

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Save the date: our annual Wool Symposium is November 19th at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station! Early-bird tickets will go on sale at the end of this week, via email to active members (memberships are annual). Now is a great time to renew your membership, we appreciate your support! www.fibershed.com/membership/

Photo by Paige Green
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