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News from the Ewes
Otherwise known as
"The View from Fryer's Bottom"

Vol. 4 February 27nd, 2010, 5AM
Good morning Dear Friends,The girls have reminded me that I have been an utter failure at delivering the "Views from Fryer's Bottom" this past year, not because I haven't been thinking of them, and all of you around the country as the seasons and events have swirled around us in 2009, but because sometimes even I have to admit that my "brain time" has become very much in demand in other areas...Ha, ha!

It means a lot to me to share a part of our events on the land with those of you who might need a few moments in the day to get away to a life that is "crazy" in a more nature based way!! Although, I know when daylight comes in an hour or so, I'll see another foot of snow over the valley on top of the other foot and a half... maybe "nature" has touched all of our lives a little too personally this winter. The Border Collies will break the path for us down to the barn - the three of them are up and back five times before I get my three layers of sweaters, vest and boots on. The dogs thank God for the "inside" barn work with the sheep or you'd have to tranquilize them! Our barn is filled with young lambs, 55 or 60 since the 1st of December. We joked about making a sign for the farm studio which says "New Sweaters Arriving Daily!"

Deep winter lambing is always a challenge and after 30 years of doing it we now have formed ingrained rituals of preparation and procedures. When the snows and cold of December bring to a close the "outbye" work, the barn becomes a haven. When you open the door to enter, the warmth of the animals and bedded pens cuts the cold making it, for the most part, bearable compared to the outside. It has been so tough this season to keep the little ones up and eating, the cold makes them want to lie down more to pick up the warmth of the straw "pack" but they, as humans, need to move about to keep their circulation going. The dogs and feeding provide the time for that. Never a morning goes by that I don't thank the first Fryer settlers for building our great old "stone bank" barn... with its spring fed constant flowing water and thick walls, we can pretty much weather anything!

As we cut open the bales of hay for the racks, the smell of summer fills the air for a bit. I love its reminder, the ewes do also, and you can get tramped if you're not careful and fast.

Finally it gets quiet as everyone is eating, the lambs race round and round in the open space left by the munching mothers at the troughs. We take those times to look the flock over, checking "body language. "The Eye of the Shepherd fateneth his flock" is a great old Scots saying which couldn't be more true. We look to see that all are eating and that the lambs are alert and tuned in to where "mom" is. Fat sides and silly jumping are all good things!

I walk among the flock peeling apart the thick lustrous fleeces here and there of the ewes and rams, visualizing yarn of course, what else as a spinner, knitter?!
We shear half the flock at Thanksgiving and those fleeces are available now in the grease as roving. Every break in the weather brings phone calls asking "Can we come up?" There's nothing like looking through bag after bag of amazing natural colors to chase away wearying winter blahs.

The pleasure we see on your faces as you hold up your choices or feed your "sweaters" is a major part of what makes our winter work worth while.

So, it seems it's daylight now and the collies are at the door...time to pull on my fashion statement wardrobe (my children say they are going to bury me in my barn "head rag scarf") disrespectful they are, to be sure, however, I am warm. Ha, ha!

Be of good cheer if you can...in like a lion, out like a lamb, and that, dear friends, is the "View from Fryer's Bottom."

Vol. 3February 2nd, 2009Good Morning All, Happy Groundhog Day!"If Candlemas is bright and clear, they'll be two winters in the year."

I've always loved this old Scotch-Irish saying but I don't relish another cold spell like January has been. It's been the coldest temperature or below 0 stretch we've had in 30 years. However - it does give us a great excuse to keep on knitting with the wonderful wool yarns we've been designing.

I've always had a love affair with the old medieval words that keep popping up here in the ridge part of Western Pa. - Scotch-Irish and Welsh mostly with a smattering of Swiss Mennonite German. Candlemas was the service held to bless the new candles made for the church. As Britain's climate was not so severe as ours, the crofters felt at this time it was safe to take the combs from the hives without fear of starving the bees through the small part of winter left.

Our bees have suffered a terrible tragedy here in Pa. When we first came to the valley, our old apple trees were so covered with bees in the Spring, you could hear the hum down to the barn.A number of years ago, bee keepers brought in 'foreign' strains which unknowingly carried a pest and now our domestic bees in this area are all but gone. Their part in the crop chain, as the main pollinator, is so important the orchards will rent sets of hives to ensure the 'set' of their fruit crop. Now the pest has entered the hives and our wild colonies are dying from hunger.

About 8 or 10 years ago, we went to the barn during the 'January thaw' and found our feed bin and chute full of the wild bees. We use all natural ingredients for our sheep rations, one of which is Brewer's grain and molasses. They must have been so hungry they flew into the bin, drawn by the sweet smell. We could pick them up with our hands and they were so quiet, nearly dead from cold and exhaustion they never stung us. We lay as many as we could in a sunny spot, hoping they might warm up and make it home. I don't think many ever did.

So friends, give a thought to the bee keepers as Congress hacks on them as a symbol of 'pork.' Those boys like to show you how they're 'cutting' by using areas whose contributions are little understood. Much of real family agriculture falls in those categories. Since there are less than 2 million family farms left in America, we who live on the land look to you to help us provide a clear or realistic vision of what rural culture contributes to the fabric of our society. I hope sharing our days with you through this journal will let you do so.

So - lambs, lambs, lambs. We have around sixty now. The barn is full. As I watch them running in the 'great lamb race' around the food troughs after we feed, I see 'sweaters' on the move, ha! ha!

Some beautiful fleeces this year - the best ever! The girls say I say that every year and I probably do, but what other job provides you with such great visible proof of your future success?

It's been a tough go. One night was 23 degrees below - oh joy! We bed the sheep deep in straw and the lambs lay in piles together by their mothers. Thank God for our old stone foundation barn. It is like the 'Ark' for us. All the creatures gather to it as the night storms come rolling into the valley. The upper part was probably built around 1845 and the lower part in 1900. It is the jewel of the farm for me and we put a new roof on it before I got a real bathroom. Your have your priorities - Hey! At least we didn't have to use the out house! The warmth of the sheep hits you as your quickly open and shut the door to come in. We chop open the hay bales and the smell of green Summer is there in our hands, reminding us and the animals alike that Spring will be here again.We'll see today at 'the old burrow.' Around here in February, you need any excuse for festivities. And that, dear friends, is the view from Fryer's Bottom.

Vol. 2 January 26th, 2009Good Morning Friends!I have been informed by the staff that one of my vows for 2009 was to be timely in sharing the news of our life here on the farm as we survey the seasons. Then they said we should have a title - oh joy. After 30 years of doing this, that ought not to be too hard - guess again!I'm not much for cute so that has narrowed the field considerably, and - since at times I am known to digress on topics (surely not!) I felt I might need a name that would allow for my occasional lapses of focus!

During the heavy coverage of our 2008 election campaign, I remembered seeing clips of a show called "The View." I've never seen the show, (our work here doesn't fit in much daytime TV watching) but it appears to be well known women on a panel discussing life and events as they see it every day in an urban (suburban) environment. All right! We can do this!I've considered that many of you might appreciate an additional "view" as you sip down your Starbucks in the morning or gather your thoughts in the evening after a grim day's work.Back to that title I need ladies! With all of this in mind, I hope you will at least find food for thought in "The View from Fryer's Bottom" Now, I know you're saying "Oh great! a newsletter for people who can't their head out of their tush" (we always say it's very dark in there) Not so, not so.For those of you who don't live on the land or do not have agricultural friends - a "bottom" is a small valley full of rich earth deposited by a creek or river. The soil is brought from many places and produces abundant crops of almost anything you care to plant (all kinds of things sprouting up here and there - are you getting the drift?)

We live here in the bottom, on a farm founded in 1840. People come to visit us from all over America and overseas as well, sharing their "views" with us, providing "sprouts" for thought (good grief! I couldn't resist it.)As we work here in the studio, carding mill and barns - women from mid-twenties to mid-seventies and eighties converse, their intertwining "views" enrich and enlighten and often reinforce certain timeless wisdoms we might have forgotten or never knew in the first place.

These shared ideas and cultural insights often create hysterical laughter or heated debate and are continued living evidence of the largely non-acknowledged foundations life on the land and of the land, formed for our nation in its beginning and its expansions. (That thing in the middle of George Washington's crest is a plow!)

It appears we are going to be in for exciting times in the year to come. Our thoughts are with all of you who will deal daily with circumstances often completely out of your control.

Perhaps we can offer you a few moments to read, escape a little, contemplate & hopefully find a little peace and laughter in our daily life in the studio, mill and farm as we work to sustain ourselves and our community.And that dear friends will be..."The View from Fryer's Bottom"

So dear friends, here is a 'sprout' for thought.
I wanted to take few moments before we go to the barn to express our thanks to all of you across the country who have been so supportive of our products and the life philosophy they've represented for us for almost 30 years now.

As this year begins, it is evident that it will be perhaps the most challenging one of our lifetimes so far.

As we go about our work now, closing up the barn on frigid winter days and preparing for the lambs, I have thought that it is perhaps time for us as women to gather our families together at our tables - to reassure them as our mothers and grandmothers did in the hard times that have come before this.

My mother used to say "the hand that rocks the cradle, shapes the nation." She didn't invent this saying but it was one of her core beliefs.

For thirty years as a military child and wife, I experienced her amazing determined ability to create a secure loving home for us. As a child we moved almost every two years. Often as not, in houses left over from before WWII, on a salary that when Lyndon Johnson published his "War on Poverty" list, turned out for 75 percent of us to be on the high poverty level. What a surprise that was for us! We certainly never felt poor - granted there were things we didn't have but we were told those things were atainable in the future with hard work and saving!

She made our home beautiful with her creative handwork - braided rugs, hand sewn curtains, hand made night gowns and slips from torn silk parachutes my father would bring home.

She was a demon on manners and could stop us in our tracks with just a look if she felt we had forgotten them or were not properly respectful to others. I remember her always using the dreaded "in this family..." if she thought that our manor or dress was not to she and my father's standards. Theirs was the daily example we shaped our lives by. I don't know if we could have put it into words - we just knew and always felt the loving faith they had in our ability to rise to the best we could do and be.

So, forgive me - those of you who've talked to me in person know I can "go on" Ha ha!

What I want to share as we enter into this year of uncertain times, is my belief that we as women and the keepers of our family's spirit will gather together the people we love and care for to assure them that our strength in hard times comes from each other not the government - that the course of our lives is far more likely to be determined by the standards of our family and frineds than who is president - that "Homeland Security" is truly a reality when we can live our daily lives in a neighborhood and community where we can sit on our porch, watch our children play and offer our dear elders assurance that the years to come for them will include a return of the care they gave us and our thanks for the nation their sacrifices have entrusted to us.

The hand that rocks the cradle, shapes the nation. Yes, it does - it is us, not the government. I've had the joy of meeting thousands of you in thirty years - I've felt your strength and resolve in so many ways. Let's reach out now, take hold of our destiny and prove it.

Happy New Year my dear friends.


Vol. 1
September 8th, 2008

Autumn House Farm Celebrates 30 years of Green!

In 1978 we returned to our valley here in the Chestnut Ridge Highlands of Western Pennsylvania. Determined to restore and renew our wonderful old farm and it's land, we set about establishing the natural and ecologically sound philosophies we were raised with as children thereby ensuring that our children would grow up also understanding first hand what it means to be "stewards of the land."

My husband's people came to this area in 1840 from Scotland and Ireland and have farmed here for almost 170 years. For 4 generations they've understood very well what it means to live with the land and the privilege it is to be "of the land." Kenny and I and our children have spent these years working as ambassadors for the natural side of PA agriculture. Sharing our belief in the sustainable practices of those early family farmers has been one of our most important goals. The other has been the re-introduction of sheep and shepherding to our area of Western PA.

Offering first hand opportunities for visitors and students to come and experience the partnership of our ecologically sound practices of farming, livestock and fiber enterprises allows us to demonstrate the enriching aspects of this type of family farming and the diverse vision of conservation American agriculture holds for our nation today. We have led by example and will continue to do so through our children and grandchildren.

Our natural manures feed our soils, and raising our own hay and grains lets us custom prepare the feeds for our animals using no antibiotics or hormones. Our prime natural lamb is backed by the highest guarantee we can give our customers-- our children and grandchildren were raised on it.

All "edibles" are recycled to our chickens and border collies with the vegetable trimmings and remainders from our neighbors vegetable farm providing 'alternative' forage for our flocks, thereby completing the "non-waste" circle of our livestock system.

Our largest studio building is heated with a "deadfall" wood and trimmed tops from neighboring wood lots. We're proud to say that we've never cut a live tree for heat here on the farm.

Our wonderful wool fleeces are scoured with the pure spring water here on the farm and bio-degradable soaps. It is this spring water that gives us the amazing variance of color we've become known for. Oak woods and rocky soils add their natural chemical elements to the mordants of nature which "fix" the rich colors of our yarns and roving. Our dying processes exhaust the colors and that water, and along with our scouring "manure teas," aid in naturalizing our acid soils through filtration.

We "pack ugly" when we ship our orders. Re-using the boxes that come to us whenever we can and have recycled thousands of plastic grocery bags from friends and neighbors as our packing fillers through the years.

The carding waste and skirtings from our fleeces are often used for stream bank erosion control in our various conservations practices.

Our commitment to our community and to you our customers is one of dedicated natural practices for our land and our products. We thank you from our hearts for the appreciations and support you have shown for our products through these 30 years. Without it we would never have been able to share our dream with you.

Thank you from all of us here at Autumn House Farm.

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