[GUEST POST] – Regenerative Agriculture and the Role of Fiber-Producing Animals

I know you know, dear reader, that I’m a hippy and I prefer non-superwash yarn from sheep raised in the US. Being a knitter means a lot of things to me like creating art, taking my support away from fast-trash-fashion, and keeping my mind busy with calculating angles and counting stitches. But mostly, I see an opportunity for the knitting community to make the world better. Yes, better through seeing more technicolor sweaters around, but most impactfully, through the way the fiber animals are raised.

My BFF Renee has written all about going beyond expecting the animals to be treated humanely – about what we should know to be the gold standard and express that we support the efforts of the shepherds and farmers who raise the animals in this manner.

❤ Larissa

What does it mean to be a conscious consumer of animal fiber?  It’s safe to say that the animals involved in production of fiber should be treated humanely, fed a biologically-appropriate & organic diet, and given plenty of green space to roam.  These factors add up to “happy fiber”, a product we consumers can feel good about.  However, given the current state of our planet due to the uprising of industrial farming, perhaps we must take our ethical sourcing one step further.

Through the practices of contained animal feedlots, unmanaged grazing of livestock, monocropping, and heavy fertilizer/pesticide/herbicide use, we find that our soil is depleted of nutrients, our water supply is dwindling, and atmospheric CO2 is climbing (a contributing factor to global warming).  This isn’t great news for the future of our fiber and food supply; successful agriculture requires nutrient-rich soil, water, and a steady climate.  It’s no surprise that the natural world is getting out of whack; we’ve done a pretty poor job of working within the natural laws.  We impose our own systems that fight natural processes rather than work with them.

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, let’s visit the upside; things don’t have to continue this way.  Through holistic management and rotational grazing of animals, we can undo many of these wrongs that industrial agriculture imposes on the earth.  Rotational grazing is the process of quickly moving large numbers and high densities of animals through many small pastures (rotations occur anywhere from a day to a week).  This practice is intense, but disperses nutrients over the land, improves overall soil fertility, controls unwanted plants, enhances water retention, sequesters carbon dioxide out of the air and into the soil, and decreases the spread of parasites among the herd.  The effects of managing animals in this way are the goals of regenerative agriculture. “Do no harm” is then advanced to “improve what we’ve got”.  While it’s obviously a good thing to support sustainable and organic producers, we’re at the point in which looking beyond sustainable is necessary to reverse the damage to our soil and our atmosphere.

To get an idea of how greater soil fertility is reached through rotational grazing, let’s first consider how the bodies of ruminant grazers work. Fiber animals such as goats and sheep are mobile fermentation machines. They eat plants (grasses, shrubs, trees) which get fermented during digestion by microbes in their gut. What comes out on the other end is nutrient-rich poop that gets deposited back into the soil.  Their hooves act as miniature tills, breaking apart the top layer of soil, allowing nutrients and water to disperse downwards.  The soil now has a greater richness in microbial life than before, which means greater fertility. Microbes work symbiotically with plant roots, feeding the plant and depositing the plant’s carbon into the soil. Grazers and grasslands are co-evolved, and they completely rely on one another to flourish.  The land needs grazers to move nutrients around.  For example, the top of a hill or mountain tends to be more nutrient-poor than the base, considering rain and erosion drives the nutrients downwards.  How else, than through animals moving up and down in elevation, could nutrients cycle back up, against gravity, to the top? Given enough time and proper management, nearly any piece of depleted land can get transformed to viable farmland with the help of grazers.

The physical act of grazing by fiber-producing animals on managed grasslands retains water and sequesters carbon. To get a full perspective, consider the average fiber pasture in which the animals are given a very large area to roam, and they are rotated rarely, if at all.  The grass, therefore, stays quite short (usually only a couple of inches tall) since the ground is rarely given a rest from constant grazing. The roots of these grasses are also very shallow, since roots only grow deep when grasses grow tall. Now consider a pasture that is managed within a regenerative practice; a large herd of animals is rotated intensively through a large number of small pastures. This allows most of the grass to be resting at any given time, so the grass has the opportunity to grow tall. Consequently, the roots grow deeper into the ground. This is of huge importance because plants have the ability to transfer carbon out of the atmosphere and into the ground through their roots. The deeper the roots, the more carbon pumping, the less carbon in our air, and the deeper water can trickle easily.  It’s no surprise that this latter practice of rotation is a good representation of how grazers move in the wild; almost always on the move due to predation and seeking areas with more abundant grass.  If every farm practiced rotational grazing of their fiber animals, imagine the potential to reverse global climate change! (Now imagine if there were tax incentives for carbon sequestration on your land … but I won’t get too political). Everyone imagines that the best way to reverse global warming is to plant hundreds of trees, but grasses actually have a stronger ability to sequester carbon, so why not start with the millions of acres of animal pasture that already exists in the US? After all, the majority of this land is unusable to grow plans on due to poor water availability, topography, altitude, and poor soil quality.

We have a dizzying number of fiber options online and in stores, and knowing which buzzwords to look for can be tough.  Choosing fiber from organically-raised animals is a great start, but we can challenge our producers to do more.  The best way to go about this ethical consumption, as with anything, is to know your farmer and know their practices.  You may not be able to meet them in-person, but a quick phone call or email with a short list of questions (How many pastures do you rotate your sheep through?  How quickly are your goats rotated?  Do you test your soil?) will let them know that there is a demand for animal fiber from regenerative practices.  If we are to continue using our land as a resource for creating goods, we must take steps to build its fertility and vitality.  As Bill Mollison famously says, “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”  If we move our fiber animals through the land in a way they naturally move in the wild, the biology of the soil with thrive, the environment and climate will being to correct, and the knitting community will help drive the revitalization of the Earth.

Renee Harding

New-to-Me Yarn Wish List for 2018

Using yarns that have been processed from sheep to skein in an environmentally-responsible way is becoming more and more important to me. I have gotten a good start on finding brands that exhibit this practice and that I like, but I know I need to branch out! I’ve used a lot of Quince & Co. as I’ve mentioned in a previous post. I love their yarn, and I’m looking for more yarn to love just as much!

Here is my list of brands I’d like to try this year. It’s helpful for me to see it laid out in list form, and maybe you can get some ideas too!

  • Blacker yarns – I really want to make socks with the mohair blends! Maybe Okanogan, a matching pair for husband and I? I just need to find a US supplier who isn’t out of stock!
  • Brooklyn Tweed – I can’t believe I haven’t used any yarns by Brooklyn Tweed yet. I do have a project in mind for their Shelter line, though – the R & R Hoodie by Tanis Lavallee. I already bought this pattern, actually, and I think this will get a whole lot of use :).
  • Blue Moon Fiber Arts – Seriously, I can come up with 4895 projects I could make with the plethora of colorways BMFA has. They have a lot of non-superwash yarn bases. I’ve got plans to make another (actually wearable this time) Crochet Pullover with the Cake DK base in Delirium.
  • Mountain Meadow Wool – I keep coming back to the website of this yarn company. And I get SO OVERWHELMED by the amount of yarn bases they have. I want to try all of them, but I don’t have a project in mind for any specific weight/drape/fiber of yarn. I’m going to make an effort to make something from one of their yarns this year. I had the opportunity last year to buy a sweater’s quantity at a seriously discounted price, but I passed it up because ugghhhhh so much regret.
  • O-Wool – I so so so need to try the environmentally-responsible washable wool from O-Wool. I’ve heard nothing but good things about how incredibly soft it is, and I can’t wait to come up with something to knit with it.
  • Pichinku – I already have a skein of Pichinku in my stash from when I supported Dana’s Kickstarter. I’m so impressed that the Peruvian women she works with are able to achieve such vibrant saturated colors only with plants native to the region. I need an extra-special project for this, but something small so that the garment’s weight doesn’t distort the baby alpaca. I’m hoping to have a reason to make something with this soon!
  • Sustainable Stitches – This yarn came as a surprise on my doorstep. Turns out, my wonderful cousin sent it to me as a thank-you for knitting her baby a wee bonnet with a puff on top. I’m so happy to have it. I think this and other DK-weight yarns from my stash are going to be included in a Camaro by Tanis Lavallee.
  • Swan’s Island – So, I’ll admit, I’ve used Swan’s Island’s yarn already before as I’ve outlined in my post about yarns I’ve used. I love it so much, I need to try every last base they sell. I also really want to visit them in Maine, but that’s another post. I already have a Zweig planned out in their Natural Colors Merino Fingering in Teal and Oyster. They also carry “EcoWash” yarns that have had an environmentally-responsible treatment to make them machine-washable that I’m very excited to try.
  • Tanis Fiber Arts – I sure do love to browse Tanis’s website at look at her yarns. She too has an environmentally-responsible washable wool called “Pure Wash”. The combination of this and her omgineedit colorways has put this on my list for a while. Although, up until now I’ve always balked at pressing the purchase button. I think I need to find something really perfect to deserve her yarn.

[PATTERN] Three-Eyed Raven

Winter is coming.

Well, winter came. Winter is here.

I am so excited to share this pattern with you all! This pattern ended up being the perfect homage to a very captivating character from Game of Thrones. For those of you who are Game of Thrones fans, I think you’ll love this as much as I do. I also sincerely hope this isn’t a spoiler to anyone, but Bran Stark becomes the next Three-Eyed Raven. He seems like he’s shaping up to be the character that the future of Westeros hinges upon in the rest of the series.

This beautiful pattern is a shawl that encapsulates three foundational aspects of what it means to be Bran Stark.

  1. Since he is from the North, being a Stark of Winterfell, he and his fellow Northerners wear fur cloaks. The warm natural tones and addition of a mohair blend suggest the furry warmth of the necessary skins he must wear to be the most senior male Stark in Winterfell.
  2. As the Three-Eyed Raven, he is connected to and channels his power through the Weirwood trees of the North and beyond The Wall. Throughout the shawl, branches of the Weirwood spread to connect the wolf-like Stark aspects and the etherial Three-Eyed Raven.
  3. Bran becomes the Raven itself. The lace in this shawl is called “Raven” which symbolizes the duties that Bran must take on. The lace pattern even looks like a raven’s skull.



Protect yourself from the frigid Northern cold and connect through the Weirwoods as the Three-Eyed Raven!

Buy the pattern from Ravelry here!

Enjoy! ❤ Larissa

A Running List of Yarn I’ve Used

One of my favorite things about the knitting/making community is all of the sharing. This is also why I love Ravelry so much (srsly so much). Nobody is keeping their patterns or yarn choices a secret. In fact, not only are patterns and yarn choices disclosed, but copious notes on the qualities of the yarn and helpful hints and modifications to patterns are detailed all over the place.

Below, I aim to keep a running list of yarn I’ve used. I’ve linked to the website for each yarn company and mention which line of their yarn I’ve used. Below each yarn brand, I’ve linked to my Ravelry project pages that used the yarn.

Since I endeavor to use more environmentally-responsible yarn, I’ve separated by superwash & non-superwash treated yarn.