Luella: Tell me a bit about how this idea of raising sheep and how building Manitoba’s only wool mill came to fruition.
Anna: Well for me, it all started when I was 18, while working as a nanny in Switzerland. I saw this gorgeous sweater, which happened to be made of this particular breed of sheep wool. At this point I decided I must learn how to knit so I could afford such a beautiful piece of clothing! That evening I was given my first knitting lesson and I was hooked! Literally! As a child, I was brought up to be very self-sufficient and always advocated for environmental and social justice and community work. This ‘pastime’ fit in perfectly, but I had no idea it would become such a passion.
Luella: So how does an 18-year-old urban-raised knitting enthusiast become a sheep farmer? Surely that doesn’t happen overnight.
Anna: Not overnight, but much faster than I would have ever dreamed of it happening. My husband Luke and I were living in Vancouver and although we loved the beauty of the surrounding parts of Vancouver, it just no longer fit in with what we wanted out of our life and that of our boys’ lives. So, in 2015 we packed up our belongings and migrated over to Manitoba. We have family in Manitoba and economically it made sense to purchase land here. Suddenly our dream became our reality. Also having two boys, then aged 5 and 3, it made sense to settle where there was lots of room to play.
Luella: Did you have a mentor? Who taught you how to raise livestock? I am still a bit baffled how a city girl transforms into a farmer overnight.
Anna: No mentor, but I spent days reading and researching all about renewable and regenerative farming, fibre processing, and how to produce a sustainable end product.
Luella: For our readers, what does that mean exactly? Regenerative and renewable agriculture?
Anna: Regenerative agriculture refers to a set of principles and/or systems that work to restore and conserve topsoil and increase biodiversity. It supports the sequestration of C02 from the atmosphere through plants and back into the soil. We view our role as stewards of this land to work with nature rather than against it. This plays out in the way we manage our livestock, the way we use their waste to build up our natural dye gardens, and the strategies we utilize to support diversity of wildlife on our farm and the values that drive our wool mill business.
Our sheep are fed on pasture. When a ruminant is allowed to feed off pastures, the grass in turn pulls more nutrients and minerals up from the soil, which supports the life cycle of the soil. The carbon cycle is especially important for sheep, as they use carbon to grow their wool. In fact, organic carbon makes up 50% of the weight of wool – I like to say that when you buy wool from us its grass fed wool! When that wool is discarded or composted it takes 6-12 months to break down and then cycles carbon and other nutrients back to the soil. It is a beautiful, renewable, regenerative product – unlike synthetic textiles which are a one-way resource.
Luella: Why the wool mill? This must have been a challenging endeavor, knowing no other mill existed in Manitoba.
Anna: When we discovered that there was no wool mill in Manitoba, we saw a great opportunity for not only for a business, but also an avenue to change the face of sustainable textile manufacturing in Manitoba. It was a risky move, but most things in life worth the risk. We both wanted to live a life following our passions and with a heart of gratitude. It has been challenging – but we don't have any regrets.
Luella: I can imagine that Covid-19 has made its impact on Long Way Homestead like many of the small businesses?
Anna: Yes, definitely. We needed to create other sources of revenue and in doing so, realized that we can do things that are equally satisfying. For example, I moved many of our Sheep School courses online. We also enhanced our online Farm Store. We also provide Farm Tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Luella: Do you think the move was good for the boys?
Anna: Seeing them grow, learn, and help on the farm is probably one of the more satisfying aspects of our decision to do this. We homeschool the boys, however, it is not done as structured as perhaps some other homeschoolers. They learn a lot by doing, and there are endless opportunities for learning on the farm. We also raise our own chickens and pigs and harvest plants used for the dyeing of the yarn, such as marigolds, dyers coreopsis, and indigo. There is always a lot to do and learn. They contribute to our growth as well.
Luella: As someone trained in maintaining mental strength and emotional health, I do not approach client concerns with psychotherapy (talk therapy) alone, I like to remind them that changes in lifestyle factors can be as effective as talking out loud with a person they trust. This may be difficult for you to answer, but out of the following five lifestyle factors, which one do you nurture the most, and how? Sleep, Nutrition, Stress (management), Exercise/Movement, or Relationships?
Anna: At this point in my journey I would say sleep and relationships are my top priority. Both food and exercise/movement are a natural part of our day as farmers, who are integrally connected to the food we grow. We work from home and 'school' from home so nurturing our connection with each other is an ongoing thing and I'm so grateful to have the privilege to do all of those things.