Shetland sheep graze in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains at Sycamore Farms. These ewes and rams trace their ancestry back to Scotland, but their modern counterparts have made a permanent home in Western North Carolina.
The sheep are small by design. Unlike their long-wool cousins, Shetland sheep are bred for their miniature size as well as their wool capabilities. Sycamore Farms shepherd Melissa Orr and her family "love small things," and made this particular breed of sheep a tiny but powerful addition to their farm, which all began with a half-dozen miniature donkeys.
Sycamore Farms is home to many different colors of sheep, from black to pure white. This produces a muted rainbow of wool, which Orr transforms into stunning hand-spun yarn. The sheep are bred for the beauty of their fleece as well as overall health.
Learn how Orr and her family care for the sheep and try your hand at weaving on a peg loom at Sycamore Farms' ongoing tours. The public can make an appointment to explore a working sheep farm Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (other days available by request). Bring a picnic and dine in the shade after meeting the sheep and learning about this unique breed.
If you're feeling inspired by the farm's flock, the ewes and rams are for sale. Shetland sheep's petite stature make them a great choice for aspiring shepherds with limited acreage. Learn how to start your own flock or just admire Sycamore Farms' spirited herd. Tours cost $5 per person and are available year-round. Children 3 and under free. Appointments requested. More info at sycamorefarmsnc.blogspot.com or 891-2487.
Crafting the next generation
"Farmers learn best from each other," says Cameron Farlow. As the farmer programs coordinator for Organic Growers School, she knows a thing or two about inspiring new farmers to take up the cause.
CRAFT, one of the school's many farm education initiatives, is a season-long program for apprentices who want to start their own farms. The program, which stands for Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training, brings together interns from local farms and experienced growers to create a dynamic learning environment for aspiring farmers.
Monthly education days, which include both formal farm tours and social potlucks, take place on a member farm each month. Beginning and experienced growers swap tips and share shop talk while seeing the realities of professional farming first hand.
Burgeoning farmers learn the "trials and tribulations of transitioning from being an apprentice into actually farming," Farlow says. Even if interns don't start their own farm at the end of the program, CRAFT inspires them to get some dirt under their fingernails and become leaders in the local food economy. More info at farmers.organicgrowersschool.org/craft.