Wool and fiber survey for the Island

The Southeast New England Fibershed is conducting a survey for Islanders. — MV Times

Calling all people who have an interest in sheep and fiber: There’s a survey for you. 

The Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society announced in its newsletter that the Southeastern New England Fibershed is collecting information to ascertain where to focus their efforts on the Island. The survey can be accessed at bit.ly/3yksr2o

Southeastern New England Fibershed co-founder Amy DuFault described a fibershed as similar to a foodshed. “A fibershed is the geographic region that produces fiber, manufacturing, and processing [it] in a particular area,” she said. 

According to DuFault, Southeastern New England Fibershed encompasses half of Massachusetts, including Martha’s Vineyard, and all of Rhode Island. She said it is one of 58 fibersheds in the world. 

“The Martha’s Vineyard brand is strong, and people want to have a piece of it,” DuFault said. “The survey we are putting out to Island farmers will look at how many farmers there are, how many are throwing wool away, or stockpiling it due to lack of processing.”

DuFault said there are farmers looking to use Vineyard wool to make fertilizer, and designers who want to use the wool to make goods like sweaters and blankets.

Wool isn’t the only part of a fibershed. DuFault, who works for the natural dye supplier and production house Botanical Colors, said she understands dye-plant farming, and this is an “exciting ongoing conversation” with Island farmers. As part of her fibershed, she is growing natural dye plants in wastewater from Joint Base Cape Cod through the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center.

DuFault said the fashion and textile industry was on a “fast road to the bottom” after the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization opened up more imports into the U.S., particularly from places where “cheap labor reigns, environmental destruction is alive and well, and ethical practices flew out the window a long time ago.”

“Still, there’s something intrinsically important to place when it comes to seeing how something is made. If we could, again, liken the textile industry to the local food movement, we’d think more about true costs of the things we consume,” she said. “As we support more farmers who make our food, we need to support more of our farmers and skilled seamstresses that make our clothing. We need to take responsibility for all things we ‘consume,’ and support rebuilding not just the textile industry with more U.S. fiber, but also the homebuilding and even the gardening industry, where waste wool has an incredible amount of applications.”