CE-MR-3-Battenkill Fibers4by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
At a time when more small business are being pushed aside to make room for larger ones, Mary Jeanne Packer’s carding and spinning mill is an exception.
Battenkill Fibers Carding and Spinning Mill is targeted toward the small flock farmer and is prepared to accommodate them.
“Mary Jean has created a mill to process fiber from small flocks like mine,” said Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk.
Tkaczyk, who has a flock of about 40 Jacob sheep, was dropping off several large bags of wool fiber at the mill to be processed.
“She also ensures that the wool we give her for processing gets returned to us — it is not mixed with other wool,” Tkaczyk added.
This is one of the features of Battenkill — to make certain that each customer gets back only their own processed fiber.
“You get your own fiber back, regardless of order size,” guarantees Packer. “After all of your hard work caring for your animal, having it sheared properly, sorting out the best fibers, and storing and delivering your fleeces to a mill — you want to know for sure that the yarn or roving returned to you is yours and not someone else’s.”
Packer originally started her mill up in 2009. However, nearly everything was destroyed a few short weeks later on June 27, 2010, when an electrical fire that began in an adjoining store burned the building to the ground.
“It destroyed most of the manufacturing equipment and purchased fiber,” said Packer, explaining that she nearly gave up the idea of the mill at that point.
With enormous hurdles to clear in the months after the fire, her determination and ability focus on her goals kept her going.
Now, four years later, Packer is realizing her dream to help Northeastern fiber producers reap the benefits of producing value-added agriculture, while also keeping the textile processing industry alive locally.
Packer reports that currently the mill has established a strong regional market with a customer base of over 450, for custom processing and has also secured some large national orders.
Services offered include skirting, scouring, picking, carding, pin drafting/combing, spinning/plying, skein winding and providing value-added, custom carding and spinning for fiber farms, as well as manufacturing yarn and fiber products for wholesale and retail markets.
“In 2012, Battenkill Fibers received a 700 pound order — and two subsequent smaller re-orders — from a large international yarn distribution company that was responding to its retail customers’ requests to furnish locally-sourced and spun yarn,” said Packer. “This contract placed Battenkill Fibers squarely in the national spotlight in yarn consumer and trade media such as Yarn Market News and Vogue Knitting; and as a result, inquiries are coming from all over North America for breed-specific locally-sourced premium knitting yarns.”
Packer purchases fleece from alpaca, goat llama and sheep farmers.
A factory store is open on the premises and yarns, roving and batting are available for hand-knitters, hand spinners, weavers and quilters. Battenkill Fibers’ own product line features 100 percent New York produced fiber. The product, named “Easton” after the local town, is Pride of New York certified.
Battenkill Fibers also offers education to farmers on how to produce high quality wool. “And we can tell farmers what the market trends are,” said Packer. “This is another way for farmers to add value to their products. Such economic opportunities help farms stay in business.”
“Processing starts with our people,” says Packer. “Battenkill Fibers’ knowledgeable staff care about the quality of your finished products. We are committed to our work; and relate to our clients because most of us are also farmers and raise fiber animals of our own.”
Packer has 12 full-time and part-time employees, including mill manager and sheep farmer Karin Kennedy.
“Because we live here, we care about the future of our place on the land. We draw the least amount of water and power possible when we process your order — and we dispose of waste in a responsible manner.”
Packer, who helps organize the annual Washington County Fiber Tour, reported on the 2013 annual Eastern New York Wool Pool held at the Washington County Fairgrounds, where a national buyer paid New York and Western New England sheep farmers for their wool.
“Our national buyer was impressed with the overall condition of wool from our area; and has already offered to purchase the 2014 Pool. Prices were lower in 2013 than previous years due to changes in the international market and wool supply. Despite that, over 50 farms participated in the Pool and brought in nearly 15,000 pounds of white and natural colored wool. The highest priced wool was long-wool that went to make carpets for airlines.”
The 2014 Eastern New York Wool Pool will be held at the Washington County Fairgrounds, State Rte 29 in Greenwich, NY, June 12-14, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
This year the Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival will be held Sept. 26-27.
“Battenkill Fibers is sponsoring the fleece judging competition,” reports Packer, “in recognition of the high quality fibers that our friends and neighbors are producing here in Washington County, New York.”
With fiber producers sending their fleeces as far away as Maine or even Canada to be processed, a local fiber-processing mill is a boost to the local Ag industry.
For more information, contact Mary Jeanne Packer at 518-692-2700 or email mjpacker@battenkillfibers.com .
“Come for a visit anytime!” says Packer.