As Sally Fox will tell you, she is first and foremost a scientist. For the past 25 years, she has been breeding cotton the old-fashioned way, seeking out strains that grow in a natural assortment of browns, greens, and even pinks. Beautiful on their own, these cotton breeds can also be dyed. They take color so well that they require 80% less dye than the commercially grown white stuff.
A fifth generation Californian on her father’s side, she began her work with cotton near Bakersfield, CA. When the local government there passed a new regulation banning colored cotton, she moved her operations to Arizona, only to face similar laws enacted there a few years later. In 1998, she moved to the beautiful Capay Valley just northwest of Sacramento, CA, and began Viriditas Farm.
So, where do the sheep come in? In 2000, Sally inherited a flock of about 50 superfine merinos from Bill and Helga Olkowski, two scientists who were pioneers in the fields of biological control and integrated pest management–essentially the science of controlling pests by using other living organisms instead of chemicals.
For Veriditas farms, Sally’s merino sheep are those “other living organisms.” Sally started them off on the starthistle that choked her fifty-acre farm. They ate it all up. Now, she’s turning them loose on the arrowhead. In the course of eating these unwanted weeds, the sheep also fertilize the fields, making the sheep an integral part of the farm. Once a year, she shears them and sends the wool off to Vermont to be processed and spun into yarn at Green Mountain Spinnery.
Sally has had her share of challenges over the last decade or so. In the mid-1990s, the American textile industry collapsed, taking with it almost all of her large, wholesale cotton customers. By that time, the United States and other first world nations had passed strict environmental regulations requiring textile manufacturers to dispose of toxic dyes responsibly and clean up pollution from earlier, unregulated disposals. Developing countries like China had no such regulations in place. As a result, their textile mills could crank out fabric for far, far less (not counting, of course, the societal costs of dealing with their unregulated pollution). Within a matter of years, American and Japanese mills had all but disappeared.
Sally has spent the last several years regrouping. She continues to farm cotton on her land (though in much smaller quantities than before), maintains a small cotton breeding program, and, of course, sells the wool from her merinos, who now number around 140. This year, however, California is in the grip of one of the worst droughts in decades, and Sally is not sure whether or not there will be water for her crop. Fortunately for knitters, weavers, and fiber enthusiasts, cotton stores well, and we can still use her yarn and fabric, which is available for sale on her farm’s website.
- What fibers does Viriditas Farm produce? Cotton & Merino Wool
- What products does Viriditas Farm sell? Yarn, fabric, cotton seed, sliver, and cotton socks. Also, sonora wheat fresh stoneground.
- Where can I buy these products? http://www.vreseis.com/shop/