By Roberta Binder
My first assignment for WNC Woman Magazine, August 2010, was to report on Echoview Farm in Weaverville NC. It was perfect for someone new to Western North Carolina in that I learned so much about the history of farming in the area, the eco-climate, and I gained insight into the long range goals of Julie Jensen, owner of both the Hops Yard, one of the largest in North Carolina and now additionally the Fiber Mill. Although the hops continue to be a viable crop, they are very labor intensive, so growing them on a larger scale did not seem opportune for local farmers. The Farm will continue growing hops as a regular crop and Julie looks forward to the Hops Yard expanding as more disease resistant varieties become available.
Echoview Farm grew out of Julie’s interest and desire to develop a sustainable, community-oriented enterprise in WNC. “[For me,] Julie says, “it’s all about trying to find some alternative to tobacco, so that the farmers in this area, who for generations raised high quality burley tobacco can once again grow sustainable crops to continue the WNC farming tradition. “Madison County had over 1200 tobacco farmers in 1993. A few years later the number dropped to fewer than 700 as Americans reduced or stopped their tobacco usage. Today that number continues to dwindle. We needed a crop to pick up the slack. I believe farmers are important and smart,” Julie continues. “They are entitled to have a reasonable source of income for a comfortable lifestyle.” The result: the Hops Yard.
Now a new venture has emerged. When Julie was given three angora goats, the idea for a fiber mill was born. Her research indicated that there are 500 fiber farms within a hundred mile radius of Asheville. “I like goats a lot; I grew up with them so I decided to attend a class on the subject of fiber mills at Gaston Community College. The rest is history.”
Echoview Fiber Mill has been operational since April of this year, providing full service processing for both large and small fiber farms. Services include washing, scouring, de-hairing, carding, pin-drafting, felting, spinning, twisting, and winding.
Sustainability, green living, and making the smallest imprint on the planet has been a lifelong goal for this quiet, yet strong, determined woman. The Fiber Mill, a full service, LEED-certified mill, is equipped with top-of-the-line equipment. The roof holds 196 solar panels, producing about half of the mill’s electricity. As the entire production process required many kilowatts of electricity, this improvement is a tremendous cost-saving benefit.
In addition, the building features a long glass wall, providing natural light to the mill floor and enabling visitors to safely view the mill’s operation.
Also, “Scour water” (cleansing water, used to prepare the fibers prior to processing) proceeds through an onsite filtration system, allowing it to be reused to water plants on the property. Water efficient, the mill uses only 380 gallons a day, about the same amount that a normal household uses.
Another fascinating technology is the Australian Optic machine. “This allows us to measure the ‘micron,’ the diameter of the fiber, so the client can make changes to strengthen the fleece yield,” states Julie. The resulting histogram shows the owner the exact “make up” of the animal’s wellbeing, which can determine changes in feed, the “emotions” of the animal and even weather influences. It also predicts the quality of the finished materials.
However, not all the equipment is cutting edge; the mill also utilizes several antique machines, making the entire operation a fine balance of state-of-the-art and tried-and- true.
Particularly impressive is the tracking system. All fleece brought in by farmers is guaranteed to be the same fleece they get back. Whereas other mills may return fibers from the whole day’s mix, here at Echoview a camera and computer program allows source farmers to watch and track their fiber as it travels through the various processes.
The textile industry is all about transformation. The animal has the first job—to grow a coat of hair. Then humans take over: shearing the fleece, delivering it to the mill where it receives a bath, scouring, and finishing processes. Using every bit of the product, waste from the rollers becomes material for felting or rug yarn. The remaining fine yarn is returned to the farmer to be knitted or crocheted into products such as warm blankets or fashionable sweaters and coats.
Education is a large aspect of Julie’s vision. Beyond the mill floor stands a building designed for both education and community activities. Currently the farm hosts a two week Girl’s Camp, which includes many fiber-connected activities. Deemed a great success, it is already in the planning stages for next summer. Check the website for information and schedule.
The Mill also welcomed three home-schooled brothers who came to learn weaving. They completed a rug and learned valuable lessons about the history of fiber in WNC and how it can be used in modern applications. My goal,” says Julie, “is to inspire youth, educate them to grow and understand the endless possibilities available in our world today.”
Establishing a curriculum for students to knit their own socks is also in the planning stages. Currently operational in New Hampshire, this program allows young people to experience the process from shearing, through the milling process, to knitting the final product. Look for a startup date next year.
Julie frequently gives talks on the Mill and notes, “Research shows that US workers are on average 30% more productive than anywhere else in the world, and North Carolinians tend to be 36% more productive than the rest of American workers, so there is a reason why so much manufacturing is based in North Carolina.”
Echoview Fiber Mill employs a talented team of people. Gwen Perkins, mill manager, with her degree in Textile Chemistry and experience operating the Textile Technology Center for thirteen years, “has worked in every facet of the industry and acts as a mentor of us all,” says Julie. In fact, “Gwen instructed the class on the community mill that gave me the idea for Echoview Fiber Mill; we are thrilled to have her heading our facility.”
Additional team members: Christopher Perkins, lead operator and production coordinator, and Chris Saunders, mill machinist, both keep the machinery running smoothly and efficiently. The balance of the team includes a group of dedicated women who work happily together, growing, learning, and innovating.
The complex also includes two dozen bee hives, angora goats, alpacas, vegetable gardens, and chickens. The community building houses three felting machines and a separate certified catering kitchen. These facilities can be used for training seminars, off-site meetings, weddings and business retreats.
The Mill includes a store, open to the public from 11-3 weekdays or by appointment, which sells yarn, clothing, art, honey, and gifts made from mill materials. All you need is your favorite pair of knitting needles or a crochet hook, and you can make creative gifts with wool from right here in WNC.
Learn more about Echoview Fiber Mill, 76 Jupiter Road, Weaverville at EchoviewFiberMill.com or by calling 855-693-4237. For a daily treat (receiving pictures), like them on Facebook. Also, review information about the farm and hops growing through the WNC Woman online back issues: www.wncwoman.com/august10/page26.html.
Roberta Binder is an Editor who enjoys working with authors to bring their words to life: RobertaEdits.com. She is also a writer and photo-journalist who enjoys all her writing adventures with WNC Woman – Women Nurturing Change!