Farm to Finger: Buckwheat Bridge Angoras
If you take a drive along the country lanes of Elizaville, New York, you might spot a lone turbine at the top of a windy hill. If you make your way up Kozlowski Road, you will be greeted by a pair of Maremma sheepdogs and perhaps a gentle red fox (an unofficial part of the flock), announcing your arrival at Buckwheat Bridge Angoras.
Buckwheat Bridge is a small solar- and wind-powered farm run by business partners Sara Healy and Dan Melamed. Solar power is harnessed in the summer and wind power in the winter; this combination provides reliable, efficient power, letting the farm raise and produce animals and fibers year-round.
For the past twenty years, Sara and Dan have raised Cormo sheep and Angora goats, and they process the fiber from those animals in their cottage industry–sized mill. Buckwheat Bridge products are made entirely from animals raised on the farm. Complete Farm Products™ is the trademarked label affixed to all Buckwheat Bridge yarn, roving, and other items produced there, signifying that from start to finish, they have been made solely on this small Columbia County farmstead.
Sara got into the business because she wanted to raise a few sheep in order to handspin their fleeces. As time went by, she bred the ewes, they had lambs, and eventually she had more fiber than she could process by hand. Twenty years ago, it was difficult to find a mill that could adequately process fine wool such as Cormo, let alone a mill that would consider small runs at all.
“After a few bad experiences, it became frustrating, since I had put so much time into producing quality fleece,” she explained. “‘Mini mills’ were then fairly new. At first, having our own mini mill was a challenge. So much slow, hands-on work is necessary to put fine wool through the machines, to open the locks of fiber. For fine wool, if I can get 6 ounces (170 grams) an hour through that machine, I’m happy. Mini mills are geared more to medium fibers. For example, you could process 10 to 12 pounds (4.5 to 5.4 kilograms) of Romney in a day. I can do 3 to 4 pounds (1.4 to 1.9 kilograms) of Cormo.”
Buckwheat Bridge produces about two hundred fleeces yearly. “We raise the lambs until they are a year old, then shear the first lambswool clip and sell the lambs for meat. We also take the fleeces from the ewes and the rams. About ninety to one hundred lambs are born each year,” she says. The first shearing of the Angora kids is at six months. Called first-clip kid, the fiber has the finest micron count (less than 30 microns in diameter) and is the softest fiber the kids will ever produce.
The fleeces are skirted by hand to carefully select the finest fiber. They are then washed, opened, blended, carded, pin-drafted, spun, plied, dyed, skeined, and labeled in the mill, all with wind-turbine and solar power from eighty-four solar panels.
The yarns produced at the mill include first-clip kid and lambswool: 70% kid, 30% Cormo; 50% kid, 50% Cormo; 100% kid; and 100% Cormo. Buckwheat Bridge sells yarn, roving, felt, hides, and fleeces at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival; the Basilica Farm and Flea in Hudson, New York; and New York Vogue Knitting Live.
Buckwheat Bridge also provides custom processing for clients. Recently, handwoven jackets in the style of Coco Chanel were exhibited in New York by artists Lidewij Edelkoort and Pascale Gatzen using Buckwheat Bridge Cormo yarn. Designers Mariepaule Rossier and Arturo Ceballos of Cottage on the Hudson are also Buckwheat Bridge clients.
“I believe strongly in educating consumers about the products they buy,” Sara says. “We do our best, in a sustainable manner, to practice farming, and our products truly represent our farm.”
Claire Houlihan is a knitter, spinner, weaver, and lover of all things fiber. A resident of Dutchess County, New York, she is a board member of the Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Growers Association.
All photos by Sara Healy.