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Idaho Fiber Mill

Fiber Mill: A Spring update

April 6, 2015

This week I’ll be taking a break from the podcast to wrap up work projects, and get ready for two weeks away at our ranch. Next I’ll be back with episode 18, and another amazing guest who has such a great story and a unique pasture management approach I think you’ll love hearing about, as much as I did.

On another note, now that all the snow has melted, things are beginning to ramp up at the ranch, along with our plans for the mill. Although as I’m writing this I just received an update from my mom that it is indeed snowing again, haha. There’s so much ground work that must be done and my hope is to share as much of that here, because as boring as some of it might be, they’re critical steps in the process.

When we first began looking for property, our number one priority and requirement is that it must have excellent water sources. We had heard far too many stories from farmers and friends who hadn’t considered the importance of such and it had cost them at one point or another. We are so blessed that we have multiple water sources across the property which will create great opportunities for the mill, our homes, animals and growing. The well that currently exists is a hand dug, shallow well, created by the original owner. Because the land sat vacant for a good amount of time, the well was often used by wildlife and has a number of contaminants in it. The water is perfectly suitable for showering and doing dishes, but must be heavily filtered for drinking and cooking. It’s also quite small and the flow and reservoir are not sufficient for anything more than two people, let alone a fiber mill. In November of last year we had someone come out and locate a better water source on the property and in the next month or so we’ll finally be able to drill the new well now that the ground is no longer frozen. There are many factors that go into drilling a well and this is my first time being a part of this process so my knowledge is limited, however it is expensive and the deeper you have to go, the more it costs. Our land is riddled with rocks and boulders, so this should be a fun challenge. After the well is drilled, it then needs to be completed to enable its use for in the home, mill and shop.

The other big project we’re beginning work on at the ranch is for a shop. We’ll be building (mostly ourselves) a shop with an apartment on top which will serve as our home while we setup the mill and until we eventually build our own home. We imagine we’ll live there for several years, so we’re doing our best to plan for what that looks like in terms of space and our family. This too is new for us and will be a great learning experience in building and help us plan better for the type of structure we plan for the mill building. The shop will also allow us to get work done during the cold and long Winter months, with a warm place to work on projects and temporarily house animals that need it until we have a barn someday.

As for mill specific updates, we’ve finally come to the decision to pursue a large loan for the mill equipment and setup. Our original intention was to explore more grants, but for a number of reasons we’ve decided to limit the grants for certain things and use a loan for the bulk of it. This decision was made after many conversations with mill owners, other agricultural business owners, advisors and our gut. We hope this will allow us to move a little more quickly…and by quickly I mean 2 instead of 5. 🙂 The mill will not be a cottage or mini mill, but a medium sized one that can handle a larger output. A mill of this size requires additional planning around the business and operational sides. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to launch with solar power, but that is our eventual goal. We’re also exploring more conservative and renewable scouring systems that will help, along with a grey water system. When I sit and think about all the moving pieces, I’ll be honest, it’s quite overwhelming and a bit nerve wreaking, but what dream becoming reality isn’t?!

Lastly, farm updates. We are very excited to begin getting animals on the land. Currently we have 30+ chickens, a few barn cats and a very sweet, yet wimpy house dog. When we’re there this next week one of our goals is to build a three sided shelter in one of the pastures so we can bring a small flock to the ranch sometime later this year. We’ve been talking with a farmer whom we’ve gotten to know very well and if all goes as planned, we’ll be getting our starter flock from them.

One of the challenges here is predators…wolves, bears, mountain lions, coyotes, etc. Our area is the perfect paradise for them and we have to have several types of protection in order to introduce more animals. We’ll be starting with a couple LGDs (Live stock guardian dogs) called Maremma’s and a yak. Yaks are great guard animals, have multiple purposes and are less resource intensive than cattle. We went and met a breeder a few months back and although we’ll start with one yak, the hope is to eventually have several. Another important part, if not the most important part of getting animals is fencing. We have adequate perimeter and separate pasture fencing with a few spots that need repair, however no electric fencing has been installed…so this will be a big job and expense. We’ll start small and work our way from there.

And who am I referring to when I say “we”? David and I, along with my parents who live at the property. You can catch up on what I’ve shared of our journey thus far, HERE.

So what does this all mean? We’ve got a very busy Spring and Summer ahead of us! This, along with some fun updates I’ll be sharing more about in the coming months has us grappling for more time…as always. I’ve been thinking long and hard about how to continue to grow the Woolful podcast while allowing time for building the mill. I’ll be making some small updates, starting with one next week. Most episodes will now begin featuring one guest, along with the Man on the Street segment, episode sponsors and some new segments I’ll be introducing soon. I did this for a few reasons, but the main reason being that I’m learning! I’d love for the episodes to be a length of time that is better for everyone, so this will bring them to just under an hour or so. It also enables me to spread out my interviewing schedule a bit more, taking less of my precious weekend time with my family. I’d like to give more individual spotlights to each guest, and while I have loved the format thus far, this new format allows more for that. And lastly, as the podcast continues to grow, having shorter episodes allows for better scalability, say if in the future I am able to do this more as a side job and produce a couple episodes a week. Like I’ve said before, I really hadn’t expected things to grow this fast, and while I’m eternally grateful for all of your support, I realized I better figure out the next big steps sooner rather than later!

Thank you for allowing me to share all of this, I hope it is as cohesive as it seems to me at this late hour that I’m writing it. 🙂 Can’t wait to post updates during out time in Idaho, when we’ll be working on the dyeing for the Spring Natural Dye Club and all of our other projects! xoxo -ash

Idaho Fiber Mill Life

Fiber mill: Where we’re at now

January 2, 2015

*Note. This post was written over the course of 3 days worth of nap-times. Obviously my son felt the need to sleep little, hence the reason this post is dated Jan 2nd instead of Dec 31st. 😉

What a year. A lot has been going on and each step of the way I’ve thought to myself “I need to write a post and update everyone”, but then in the wee hours of the night I find myself editing a podcast, replying to emails or working on patterns instead of writing this. But now I sit here, in our little cabin in Idaho, with hopefully about an hour of peace and warmth in front of the fire to share with you, where we’re at now.

I have always been one to jump in head first, take on what some might say far too much and work as hard as I can to execute said work with both intention and determination. Passion is one of the drivers, but more than that, is my family. Balance has never been a strong suit of mine, however as I’ve taken more on with my career as a designer, and with Woolful, I’ve tried to be cognizant of the fact that my first love and desires belong to my family.

When I started Woolful in April, I had no idea where it would lead me or what it would become, and I still don’t really, but I have gotten a glimpse of where it’s going and I’m excited…and humbled. I didn’t expect to start a shop, but it just kind of came to be after spending time with these amazing fiber folks for the podcast. I hope in some small way I can help bring light to what they were doing and inspire fiber enthusiasts to take a closer look at and create a connection with the material they are using and creating. In the same vein, I launched a podcast which focuses on helping build that same connection, sharing fiber journey’s of some of the most dedicated, loving and passionate people I know.

And the mill. In September we closed on our 40 acre ranch in Idaho, with the plan (and dreams) to build a fiber mill. My parents and David and I bought the property together, with hopes to build a legacy for our family there. My parents live in the cute little cabin, which has it’s fair share of rough spots that we’re working through. Busted pipes, rotting subfloor, janky staircase, drafty walls and windows, etc. But it doesn’t really matter. You work through it as you do with anything in life and you come out on the other side, better (and hopefully more skilled) because of it. The truth is, we didn’t buy the ranch for the cabin, we bought it for the land it sits on. 40 acres of breathtakingly beautiful timber and pasture. Our field of dreams.

cabin

We’re up in Idaho now, and each time we are, it’s both restorative and agonizing. Restorative for the obvious reasons, agonizing because we long so badly to be here permanently, to raise our son and future kids in the fresh air and open land instead of the big city. But all in time, and there is a plan, albeit one that could very well change as many plans do. The plan is to save for the next several months and then buy a yurt. Spend next Summer building the platform for the yurt, then setting up the yurt itself and building other things such as an outhouse (a nice one, don’t worry we have expert outhouse builders guiding us 😉 and possibly a mud room. This will most definitely take more time than we anticipate, but our goal is to have it complete by the end of 2015. At what point we move and live in the yurt permanently is yet to be decided…could be a year, could be 2 or more. I’m learning to go with the flow and be flexible.

Meanwhile, we have begun the grant research and writing process for a variety of grants that will help us build the fiber mill and business. This stuff is a lot of work, and something we’re considering hiring a grant writer for, we’ll let you know what we decide. 🙂 The other thing we are working on is deciding funding. Our goal is to do this without loans. A lofty goal we know, but one we’re confident we can achieve with the support of our community, grants and lots of penny pinching. I’ll write about each of these things in more detail as we progress through the process and have helpful information to share.

We picked the site for the mill on the property! It’s a beautiful spot with great access to water and power, it sits right next to a wide creek with wide spread wooded views. When I stand outside I can see everything. The stone and log wood structure, with windows lining each side. A small front area that welcomes guests with it’s pot belly stove and rockers, baskets full of yarn and fiber ready to knit and spin. Then you walk through large french doors that lead to the milling machines. A picker, carder, pin drafter, spinning frame and more. Large canvas laundry carts on wheels helping move the fiber along through each step. In the back we’ll have a special enclosed area where all the fiber is scoured using sustainable methods, including a greywater system. Then you step out the back to a porch that overlooks the creek. Here is where the evenings end and future dreams (of sheep) will be discussed. Like I said, I can see it, can you? 😉

One of the exciting things that’s happened since we got the property is we converted an old milking parlor into a natural dye studio. We’re slowly setting it up, and by Summer it’ll be in full swing. I’ve been dyeing it in non-stop for the Natural Dye Yarn Club and it’s been wonderful, but I’m excited about some improvements we have planned, such as a small wood stove. I’ve been dyeing this whole past week in sub zero temperatures and it’s been interesting. More on that adventure in a separate post…I have lots of great photos and notes to share.

dye studio

 

natural dyeing

Lastly, I wanted you guys to know how incredibly supported we’ve felt this year, through all of our ambitious endeavors. Naturally I’m a bit of an introvert, but I realized quickly in life that if I want to help build awareness, connections, advocacy, relationships, etc…I needed to put myself out there in some way and you all have greeted me with encouragement and grace. I appreciate it more than you will ever know. And as always, please please never hesitate to reach out here or by email or wherever. I may not have the chance to reply in a timely fashion (I’m trying!) but I read everything and it keeps me humble and full of thanks.

Much love in this new year, 2015 is going to be magical. 

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Idaho Fiber Mill Knitting Life

The beginning: An Idaho fiber mill

September 6, 2014
meadows end ranch

I’ve been waiting to spill the beans on this for awhile now. As anyone who’s purchased property before knows, it’s a long and winding process, one that can end in amazement or disappointment. I’m actually still in shock this is really happening. This past week we signed closing papers on a 40 acre property in North Idaho, complete with a charming old cabin, several old outbuildings and an enormous amount of potential. This is the very first post in what I hope becomes a regular account of the going ons of Meadow’s End Ranch and our family’s journey to get there. This is about our future and our dream. Our dream of building a thriving, sustainable homestead and fiber mill. I am so excited and encouraged by this community and hope you’ll follow and even join our adventure, getting to know us better. Just as they say it takes a village with children, it takes a village to start a fiber mill. You are our village. 🙂


We currently love and live in San Francisco. We moved here a year ago from Seattle, for an incredible career opportunity. Our plan is to live and grow here in SF as we map out and save for our future and all the work that entails. As we are quickly finding out, there’s a lot. Planning, building, sourcing, financing, networking, learning, learning, learning. This is an exciting yet arduous process, one that will take quite some time to do right, with plenty of mistakes I’m sure. We’ve made the first big step in making this real, now for the next 274,848 steps.

If you’re a part of the fiber community, I’d love to get to know you! Shoot me an email or leave a comment here.

meadows end ranch

meadows end ranch

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meadows end ranch