Moonshine Design at Keldaby Farm
By Molly Sauvain, CISA Intern
Published in CISA’s May 2011 Enewsletter.
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Keldaby means “farm among springs.” As I walk across these pastures and hills, Keldaby Farm lives up to the sense of beauty and peace its name implies. Bob and Cynthia, my tour guides for the day and owners of the farm, make a well-matched pair. One tends the farm’s eighteen angora goats, the other weaves and dyes their mohair to make sumptuously colorful scarves and shawls, ruanas and throws.
“We rely on our story,” Cynthia tells me when I ask how they market their fiber products. They purchased the farm in the 80s when they, “didn’t even have a broom, let alone a pitchfork!” Relying on the generous support of neighbor farmers and friends, they learned how to farm little by little. In those early years there were quite a few farmers raising angora goats, and Bob and Cynthia joined them to found the Northeast Angora Goat Breeders Association. Keldaby was also one of the very first farms to join CISA’s Local Hero Program, which was born around the same time as Bob’s first batch of baby goats.
Their fiber business, Moonshine Design, began about a year later when an acquaintance called Cynthia to inquire if she could buy fleece to make mohair blankets. With only a one-day weaving workshop twenty years before under her belt, Cynthia suggested a partnership instead for this small weaving business. For the first eight years they shipped their yarn, which is spun by Green Mountain Spinnery, to a “fabulous” Quebecoise weaver who wove the finished garments. Eventually Cynthia became her apprentice so she could do the weaving on-farm as well as the dyeing. “I’m addicted,” she says, and it’s no surprise when I catch a glimpse of her studio. The sun-lit cozy loft is furnished with two looms and shelves piled with all colors of mohair yarn. It takes Cynthia four to five hours of continuous work to make one throw, a true labor of love.
Mohair, it turns out, doesn’t just rely on looks to win people over. It is soft and beautiful for sure, but also highly durable and fire-resistant. As an added bonus, mohair is less attractive to the moths that do damage to wool products. Bob chimes in to say that most old theaters used mohair to make their seat covers as it could withstand years of wear. I get the chance to feel the raw material—mohair shorn from the goats, which will eventually be washed and spun into yarn. It’s brown and dirt-streaked on the outside from goat frolicking and the realities of living in a barn, but closer to the roots it is soft, curly, and creamy white. “People need to know the differences between natural and artificially created fiber,” says Cynthia, “we sell the real thing.” When I ask how they see fiber fitting into the buy local movement, Cynthia responds, “The same way as food! The open countryside will exist only as long as there are farmers, and farmers need enough income to survive. There is a good audience of people that want to buy locally grown and produced products.” Cynthia herself works two jobs off-farm, and tells me, “We don’t make a wage, we cover expenses.” They rely on their story and the fact that all their products are homemade (and beautiful) to make every sale.
You can purchase Moonshine Design products at the Greenfield Farmers’ Market, online at www.keldaby.com, and at various craft shows like FiberTwist and the Crafts of Colrain studio tour, but the experience that Cynthia and Bob want all of their customers to have can only be found at the farm. Visitors, always welcome, “have a chance to meet the animals that provide the fiber for that pair of mittens or shawl that they may drive home with. That has meaning for them.” A visitor myself, I was lucky enough to meet the ladies themselves—the wildly curly, curious, sweet goats that live at Keldaby Farm. Each one has a name, and Bob addresses them with unbounded affection. Today it feels like Spring, and the last stubborn snow piles are outnumbered by hopeful patches of grass. We let the goats out to pasture and they jump and run with joy before settling down to mouth the earth. These are happy animals.
“We do it for love,” says Bob. He takes me up a hill behind the house and tells me to turn around, re-creating the experience he had when he and Cynthia first came to look at the house and surrounding land. The view is literally breathtaking. The house, painted bright yellow and green, is nestled into the bottom of the hill just to the left of the red barn. The goats are munching contentedly among the crisscross of fencing. Layers of mountain are visible just past the tree-tops. Bob says of that day, “I saw this and all I could say was yes.”