In a highly corporate world cottage industries are few and far between but as the demand for local goods increases, they may have a second chance. Located about 100 miles north of New York City, the Hudson Valley Sheep and Wool Company is one such example. Started by Mary Godesky, the farm houses 100 ewes and eight ram and is largely run by women. Godesky treats the sheep with love and all of the wool is sustainably processed on site, making the company an eco designer's dream come true.
Godesky bought the land in 1978 and went through a series of agricultural endeavors before establishing the farm and mill. She tried raising cows, rabbits and Dorset sheep for meat, but finally found her niche with Icelandic and Shetland sheep. The sheep’s fleece is processed on site and is transformed into batts, roving, sheets of felt or spun into yarn. All products come in a variety of colors- some left in their natural state and others dyed naturally on site.
The farm hosts a small Yarn Shop where customers can find Hudson Valley Sheep and Wool brand products as well as yarns by a number of other makers such as Patons, Bartlett and Brown Sheep. Several members of the company also sell their finished knit and felt work as well as DIY kits for those starting out in the fibers world.
Godesky’s mill has long served as an important resource for the surrounding community, but due to recent economic challenges, she downsized operations in March 2011. What once was a place where anyone could bring raw materials for processing is now limited to use for in-house purposes only. More than just a contributor to the local economy, the farm and mill also play an important role in social cohesion. Agriculturalists, artists and students gather to share knowledge, work the land, produce goods and catch up on life. Monthly sessions such as “Sit and Knit” and special events bring people together in a rural environment that can at times feel isolating.
The Hudson Valley Sheep and Wool Company has also been a stronghold at the annual New York State Sheep and Wool Festival held at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds. Breeders, fiber artists, designers, kids, chefs and farmers from all over come to celebrate fall and everything sheep-related. Mickey O’Neill who has worked with Godesky at Hudson Valley Sheep and Wool for over seven years explained the excitement festival goers show upon seeing Mary return year after year.
A strong presence in her own community, Godesky’s efforts and knowledge have the potential to reach a much larger audience. With the number of young New York City based designers searching for local and ethical sources of materials, the Hudson Valley Sheep and Wool Company could be an undiscovered goldmine to many.
Fiber artist Laura Sansone has been a dedicated customer since finding the mill about three years ago at the Sheep and Wool Festival and introduced me to the strong women behind its operation. On a mission to source her materials locally and from people with ethical practices, Sansone found the mill to be an excellent way to fulfill her goals. Inspired by craft guilds that served as a social and communal activity, Laura has harnessed local skills to fuse them with modern design. She is teaching a course this spring at Parsons titled “Made in New York” that will pass this challenge on to her students. They will form projects where design is applied to create economically viable industries to help revive domestic places in need.
The Hudson Valley Sheep and Wool Company is one example that I happened upon thanks to Laura Sansone. However, there are other such examples that have the potential to be part of a whole new creative economy grounded in ethical practices, responsible land stewardship and good design taking place within a local radius. People are ready for a change but rather than constantly looking to the latest idea or design, sometimes looking back at what already exists can be highly insightful.
Images © Amanda Silvana Coen for Inhabitat