25 April, 2009

100 Mile Fibre Diet

Most reasons for being a locavore translate into being a local consumer with fibre—the fibre you wear, not eat. Buy locally-raised wool or alpaca that is processed at a local mill, and you promote local agriculture, business, and industry. Know the shepherd who keeps the flock, know the animal by name, and you can assure yourself how well the fibre was raised. You also get an interesting relationship that most people don’t have with their clothing suppliers. Develop distinct local goods and material culture (think Cowichan sweater), and you increase regional pride and marketing opportunities. Buy direct from a producer and you could get better quality at a better price. A 100 Mile Fibre Diet can greatly reduce the fossil fuel used in transportation from source to end user, lowering your carbon footprint if that’s your goal.

By buying local, you can also reduce another sort of carbon: carbonization, the large wool processors’ technique of using sulfuric acid and heat to reduce burrs in wool to ash so that there are no prickly bits in your woolens. Small, local mills leave vegetable matter in the roving or crush it with rollers into tiny bits. Conceivably, this technique has a more beneficial impact on the environment and on mill operators who don’t have to work on-site with caustic chemicals. Might have less impact on you as well, since wool put through carbonization is scratchier than wool that hasn’t. Barring the burrs, naturally.

The 100 Mile Fibre Diet is a challenge to the established norm, a challenge to your ability to stick to it—and may I say, food is worse because you must have a variety of food but you can get along without that tussah silk that is calling your name—and a challenge to your skills. Yes, skills. Think of those locavores who pick up gardening and cooking and grain grinding and pickling and gleaning and seed saving. If the only wool in your area is on critters destined to give birth to future frozen locker lamb chops (that is, raised for meat and not wool), you may find yourself with a clothespin on your nose hunched over diagrams trying to figure out what exactly “skirting a fleece” and “scouring” mean in real life. Other enthusiasts are planting flax in the garden and talking about harvesting nettles to spin.

You don’t just acquire skills and knowledge, either. Processing a fleece or a hank of retted flax takes specialized tools. I know, I’ve borrowed tools and tried. In my quest for the ultimate local fibre experience, I’ve ventured to get some flax and wool processing hand tools made on Vancouver Island, B.C.. I live in hope of more.

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