Yesterday’s news (to me) that Butternut Woolens had closed hung heavy in my heart. Shelly’s wrenching post about giving up her farm, her dream, her family’s lifestyle, her sons’ chance to grow up on the land as she did, touched something deep. I’m a rural girl — not a farm girl, but a woods girl, an island girl — who moved to the city, but all along I’ve trusted that the doors are open to go back to that life of forests and fields, seashore and small town, flora and fauna and clean air and quiet.
But it’s hard to make a living close to the land nowadays. My sister-in-law and her husband breathe the struggle every day as they fight for their dream of living off the land in Texas, or Oklahoma, or wherever they can manage to lease enough acreage and scrape by to get their lambs to market. The scope of their vision, their sheer cussed determination to make a go of it in a profession conventional wisdom says is doomed, has always astonished me. But dreams like Shelly’s — a five-acre plot, a modest menagerie of sheep and rabbits, a little business dyeing, spinning, and selling wool — it saddens me deeply to see those die. It wasn’t so long ago that many, many Americans lived this way. I’m not saying I think life was easy for them, or financially stable. I just want to believe that it’s still possible to farm on a small scale, as a vital part of a local economy. I want to live in a world where you can get eggs and milk and produce and wool from your neighbors, because I think it’s a sustainable way to exist, and because I value the bonds that are formed when your children can see where their food comes from and when neighbors know they can rely on each other for help, solace, and celebration.
These relationships exist in the urban world, too, of course. I’ve never had as close-knit a group of neighbors as I do in Portland. I love that we’re part of a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) that lets us help with the farm work now and then. It’s important to me that we can get good food that hasn’t had to travel around the globe to reach our table. But yesterday I started to think: if Local is valuable to me in my food, and in the clothes and goods I buy, why haven’t I carried that sentiment over into my knitting? Why haven’t I committed to supporting small farmers like Shelly whenever I can?
So I’m trying the idea on. At this point, I’m not ready to go totally ascetic and cut international brands like Rowan out of my yarn diet, but whenever it’s possible — financially and design-wise — for me to support a local grower or dyer or spinner instead of buying a more commercial fiber, I’m going to do it. This means buying Oregon stuff when I’m at home (I’m eager to try the Imperial Stock Ranch wool, for instance), but doesn’t exclude souvenirs from my travels. If I can’t achieve a design idea with something local, I’ll still try to favor a small, family-run producer over a big company. With my rudimentary skills in Adobe Illustrator, I made a little button:
Download it to your computer and put it on your blog if you think you’d like to support more farmers and artisans in your own community. (Or use your own superior skills to make a better button, and then come back here and tell me about it!) I might even start a Ravelry group where folks can share their local-origin knits.
The background photo in the button is another skein of sock yarn from Butternut Woolens. I happened to be loitering in Abundant Yarn (a great resource for local stuff – they do a lot of their own dyeing with natural dyestuffs, and they also carry Imperial Stock Ranch and a number of other Oregon products) yesterday afternoon, and I spied this tempting skein of shifting rusty reds in a display basket. I picked it up, and lo, it was from Butternut Woolens. It was one of only a few remaining skeins, and it felt like a sign after I’d been mulling over Shelly’s quandary all day, so home it came with me. The gesture was small, too little too late, but it felt like a tiny step in a worthy direction. Butternut Woolens may be gone, but a beautiful pair of red socks in my drawer will remind me that it existed and meant the world to one woman in Gaston, Oregon. Thank you, Shelly, for the lovingly crafted yarn, and for opening my eyes a little wider.