By Toni Riley, field reporter with The Farmer's Pride
Published in The Farmer’s Pride, July 7, 2022
MILLERSBURG, Ky. – On a recent Saturday morning, Dr. Tim Woods, University of Kentucky Extension economist, taught a group on enthusiastic students who weren’t college students. The students were taking part in a market ready class for small businesses that produce value added products including soaps, lotions and fibers specifically from small ruminants. The class was held at the newly opened Kentucky Natural Fiber Center.
The Center, which opened last December, was funded by a grant from the Kentucky Agriculture Development Council. Sarabeth Parido, director of Wool and Fiber marketing for the Kentucky Sheep and Goat Development Office, oversees the operation of the Center.
Parido said the center came about because of an increasing number of attendees at the Kentucky Sheep and Wool Festival requesting information about how to raise small ruminants and produce their own fiber as well as where to take artisan level classes. She used herself as an example of someone who learned to knit at a young, and as she advanced in skill, she wanted to purchase fleece, dye and spin her own yarn and finally raise her own sheep. There was nowhere she could go to have the entire spectrum of education she needed.
While Millersburg might seem a bit off the beaten path, Parido said the Bourbon County location avails producers and artisans a central location to build an important network. It also taps into nearby resources by specialists and other teachers who offer specific workshops to share their knowledge.
“The Center has a two-pronged approach in its mission, one, offer classes for production and growth opportunities for fiber producers as well as classes for artisans who use the locally produced fiber.
“It’s important to note that ‘fiber’ is not just wool,” Parido said. The Center supports the fiber industry, which has a big umbrella of many different animals, including rabbits, goats, alpacas, llamas, and even camels and yaks.
The idea of a center where the two groups could learn and connect began to grow and the Center came into fruition at the Mustard Seed, the former Millersburg Military Institute 10 miles from Paris.
The Center is a bare bones classroom or studio, depending on the class offered. Parido said the Center currently offers at least one artisan class a month and plans to expand that class to ever week. They plan to offer a hands-on class once a quarter.
Fiber arts include the obvious knitting and crocheting but also include spinning, weaving and felting. Currently classes are “beginning” level classes for knitting and crocheting as well as felting and advanced classes will be added as needed. Parido said there are plans for “retreat” style workshops for the advanced knitting and crocheting, weekend classes to help the group move to the next level. One of the big advantages to the Millersburg site is Airbnb lodging available at the Mustard Seed. Parido described the rooms as luxurious with a king-sized bed and kitchenette.
The animal husbandry classes are taught by Kathy Meyer, from Lost Frontier Farm just five miles from the center.
“This small-scale education is not offered by any university. It’s just to introduce people to sheep production and to have some hands-on experience,” Parido said. The sheep and goat office found a growing number of people are moving out of the city and want a couple of acres of land and want to learn how to ethically and sustainably raise fiber animals.
Meyer agreed. “This is not Sheep Science 101 but a very simple introduction to raising sheep. Attendees can then decide if they want to make the investment and go to a more advanced production class.”
Another important element of the Center’s commitment to fiber production is the array of fiber production equipment available. Fiber producers can “test drive” different types of carders and spinning wheels to determine if it’s the correct one for their operation. This can save the expense of costly equipment that doesn’t meet the need of the operation.
Sherry Creach Cursey regularly attends classes at the Kentucky Natural Fiber Center. Cursey is taking her long-time love of textiles to the next level and wants to eventually become a fleece grader.
“The Kentucky Natural Fiber Center has given me the opportunity to pursue my dream of textile business,” she said.
Republished with permission from The Farmer's Pride.