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Focus on local fiber at Lopez Lamb, Wool, and Goat Festival

May 2nd, 2012 | Category: Community, Features

by Cameron Deuel

The Lopez Lamb, Wool, and Goat Festival returns for its second year on Saturday, May 12, bringing sheep, goats, demonstrations, and more.

Organizers Maxine Bronstein and her partner, Debbie Hayward, view their involvement with the festival as a natural pairing. As owners of Island Fibers, a small business that focuses on wool-based creations done by hand, they feel the festival shows off what the island has to offer. “We’ve been running our business for about 10 years,” Hayward said. “Lopez Island fleece is just incredible to work with and this festival is a great way to showcase that.”

Sheep are herded to Lopez Village during last year’s event. COURTESY PHOTO

This year, the festival is sponsored by Island Fibers, Saddleback Sheep Ranch, and the Agricultural Resources Committee of San Juan County.

According to Bronstein, Island Fibers purchases over a thousand pounds of wool each year, which is transformed into garments, textiles, and accessories, among other things. Their fleece comes from local farms including Hunter Bay Farm, Saddleback Sheep Ranch, Seaside Sheep Company, Marshfield Farm, Reeve Ohana, One Clay Hill Farm, and Hill Farm.
“The festival also promotes the meat of the animals,” Bronstein said. “It’s actually the main crop of Lopez Island because the farmers take a few extra steps in raising them in order to have better quality animals.”

While Bronstein says she does not own sheep of her own, many farmers on the island have their own flocks that contain between eight and twelve sheep. Since the island is plentiful with sheep, the vast amount of wool is utilized by textile artists so as not to waste the resource. “The climate is just amazing for wool,” she added, “That’s why Lopez Island is such a big textile area.”

The concept of The Lamb, Wool, and Goat Festival sparked during a conversation two years ago during the holiday bazaar held at the local preschool. “Once we decided to do it, a lot of people started to get involved,” Bronstein recalled, “It really took on a life of it’s own.”

Last year’s festival held more than simply sheep-shearing demonstrations. “There was a sheepdog demonstration to show how they herd the sheep and the lambs got to be cute,” Bronstein said. “But one of the most fun parts is when they herd the sheep through town to come to the festival.” On Friday evening, Don Burt Jr. of Saddleback Sheep Ranch drives a flock of sheep into Lopez Village, which Bronstein said is a sight to behold. “They all come through the main road.”

While these events will happen again at this year’s event, the biggest change to this year’s lineup is the inclusion of goats. “We’ll have a few different breeds to show,” Bronstein said. “And, of course, there will be baby goats.”

The addition of goats allows for more demonstrations, from meat-cutting to learning how to make goat cheese.

“We’re including a scavenger hunt for the kids,” Bronstein said, noting the importance of local produce and agriculture for younger generations. “Instead of finding prizes, they’ll have to ask specific questions about sheep and wool.”

Since last year’s festival, others have become interested. “After we added goats we got a request from an alpaca farm from the San Juan Islands,” Bronstein said. “Who knows what sort of animals we’ll have by next year!”

All proceeds from the festival will be donated to the Lopez Farm-To-School Program, which teaches children the importance of local agriculture by funding their own small garden at school. While the event is free, the dinner costs a fee and is prepared by Christina Orchid, a chef from Orcas Island. “We try to include as many local ingredients as possible when putting the dinner together,” Bronstein said. “It will be a festive and bountiful meal.” During the festival, a shawl will be made from raw fleece to be auctioned off at the dinner.

While Bronstein and Hayward are planning the festival, they are receiving help from the community as well. “It’s just one of those projects where everyone’s helping out,” she said. “We get asked about including different events and we’re happy to include everyone.”

The festival will take place on Saturday, May 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lopez Center For Community And The Arts in Lopez Village. For more information, call Island Fibers at 360-468-2467 or visit islandfibers.com.

Published in the May 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine.

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