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Shear bliss: Washington County Fiber Tour returns after missing 2020

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SALEM — After missing a year due to the pandemic, the Washington County Fiber Tour resumed Saturday with nine farms and a fiber mill, from North Granville to Valley Falls.

“We wondered if we were going to hold the tour this year, but we’re being careful,” said Herb Perkins, co-owner of Quarry Ridge Alpacas in Salem, as cars turned into the farm’s driveway. “People want to come out.”

“We’re lucky,” said Faith Perkins, who co-owns the farm with her husband. “We have a beautiful day and lots of visitors.”

Some of the farm’s 21 resident alpacas crowded into the barn to nibble treats from visitors while others waited their turn in pens outside. Occasionally one of the alpacas would hum softly.

“This is our 22nd year with alpacas,” Faith Perkins said. “We wanted a small farm. I’m a fiber addict and we just like animals in general.”

Alpacas are hardy, easy to care for, safer to handle than larger animals, and “very efficient eaters. They consume less in a year than Labrador retrievers,” she said. Native to the high, dry deserts of the Andes, “they love winter but they don’t like the hot, humid days of summer.”

The Perkinses have champion breeding stock producing an array of naturally colored fibers. A sales area below their house offered fiber, yarn, toys and knitted and woven goods, from socks to shawls.

Most of the goods are produced on the farm. “All the dying is done here at the farm,” Faith Perkins said. “The garments have been knitted or woven here.”

A few miles away, Ray and Beth Olson had opened Lily of the Valley Farm to the tour for the first time. Beth Olson credited Karin Kennedy of Ensign Brook Farm and Mary Jeanne Packer of Battenkill Fibers Carding and Spinning Mill for restarting the tour.

“We’re very excited to get on the tour,” Olson said. The self-guided tour was drawing a “very good group of folks. This gives us an opportunity to get what we do out there.”

The Olsons have a flock of 10 sheep yielding various kinds of fiber. Two black Gotland rams, up for sale, were visiting from Sheep in Wool Clothing in Nassau. Dan Fancett, the Olsons’ grandson, is engaged to the shepherd there, he said.

Gotlands, a Swedish breed, are dual purpose meat and wool sheep, Fancett said. He’d brought a trimmed and hand-stamped sheep’s hide, a traditional Swedish way of making blankets and wall coverings.

“We can get some networking here and eventually have a stand at our own farm,” he said.

The Olsons were selling raw wool, yarn, and hand-knitted garments.

“They’re all-natural products,” Beth Olson said.

The Olsons started their flock eight years ago.

“It’s relaxing to us and interests us,” Beth Olson said. Their children help out as needed.

“It’s a family affair,” she said.

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