From Noun to Verb: Fibreshed’ing Across Canada

By Sarah Jean Harrison

The local fibre movement, better known as Fibershed, is quickly taking off across North America and Europe. In honour of the Wool Symposium, hosted by Fibershed on November 19th, 2016 in Marin County, California, we are looking at three fibresheds that are developing across Canada.

 

children in the dye garden Sunshine Coast Fibreshed Canadian Organic Growers

Children in the Dye Garden of the Sunshine coast Fibreshed. (photo credit Heather Apple)

My Grammatical Error

I have made a significant grammatical error. All over the internet, in daily conversation, in emails, I have been making this mistake.

No, I didn’t use their when I meant there. Or incorrectly add that sneaky apostrophe to its. This grammatical error is a little more elusive.

I, wait for it, used “fibershed” as a noun when it is truly a verb.

I know that for most of us pondering grammatical phenomenon isn’t high on our daily to-do list. But bear with me for a moment and consider that sometimes words shift position. Google, originally a noun, is currently a verb. And I would wager that you say Let’s google that at least once a day.

So what precisely is the difference between a noun and verb? A noun is an object, a thing, a name. Whereas a verb, that’s an action, something we do and engage in. We discuss nouns but we do verbs.

I thought that “fibreshed” was a noun. Sometimes it was the name of a particular geographic space but it was always identified the idea of locally-based, environmentally sustainable fibre production, coined by Rebecca Burgess in California and spreading quickly across North America and Europe.

My mistake became glaringly clear when I spoke with the folks running three different fibresheds across Canada: the Sunshine Coast Fibreshed, the Upper Canada Fibreshed and the Atlantic Canada Fibreshed. I heard about unique projects, ambitious endeavours and loads of community outreach. I had missed the moment when fibreshed shifted from noun to verb.

 

Sunshine Coast Fibreshed Canadian Organic Growers

A display by the Sunshine Coast Fibreshed highlighting their dye projects. (photo credit: Deanna Pilling.)

The Sunshine Coast Fibreshed

Tucked along Canada’s West Coast, the Sunshine Coast is a creative hotbed with almost no pasture land. How does one create a fibreshed where there is no space for sheep to graze? It’s a tough question but not, as it turned out, an insurmountable dilemma.

Established in 2012 by Deanna Pilling this fibreshed hugs the rugged rainforest of the Sunshine Coast. While its geographic reality cannot host many sheep or alpaca, it is home to many artists, makers and creative minds concerned about the environmental cost of garment production. As Pilling says, “the soil that feeds us should be the soil that clothes us”.

Working with local fibre artists and producers in the lower mainland and interior of British Columbia,the Sunshine Coast Fibreshed focuses on networking and developing awareness around issues of fibre quality, sustainability and skill development with particular focus on natural dyeing.


“The soil that feeds us should be the soil that clothes us

– Deanna Pilling

The overwhelming positive response reflects, says Pilling, the current fibre arts renaissance in North America. Young people are engaged in learning about fibre from sheep to garment, long-time artisans are discovering methods for increasing the environmental sustainability of their crafts, and unique, geographically-specific partnerships are consistently emerging.

Case in point: in October the Sunshine Coast Fibreshed is hosting the Biannual Fungi and Fibre Symposium. This event is dedicated to foraging for mushrooms, of which there are many to choose from, and learning about natural fungi dyeing techniques. Could there be a better example of learning to act within, rather than against, local ecological parameters?

 

linc farms heep Upper Canada Fibreshed Canadian Organic Growers

The sheep of Linc Farm, an Upper Canada Fibreshed producer. (photo credit Sarah Jean Harrison)

The Upper Canada Fibreshed

Welcome to the rural renaissance. Championed by Becky Porlier and Jennifer Osborne, the Upper Canada Fibreshed is leading the way in reviving and recreating local, environmentally sustainable fibre-based economies in Southern Ontario.

Osborne and Porlier, who met at the annual Guelph Organic Conference in Ontario, share a passion for environmental sustainability and rural development.

Osborne, an artist-turned-farmer, raises a meat-diary-fibre flock on All Sorts Acre, her permaculture-based farm outside of Orangeville, Ontario. Porlier, who holds an MSc in Capacity Development and Extension, is the founder of the Upper Canada Mercantile, which uses local fibre and local skill to craft wool blankets.

Following the lead of Burgess’ California Fibershed, Porlier and Osborne believe in pairing education with local economic development. The Upper Canada Fibreshed works with rural-based organization like the Fashion Arts and Creative Textiles Studio and the Centre for Rural Creativity, as well as more urban-focused initiatives like Minga Skill Building Hub and the Contemporary Textile Studio, to create hands-on workshops, offer presentations on the fibreshed movement and introduce communities to the importance of carbon-farming and regenerative agriculture.

Together Osborne and Porlier are uniting local fibre producers, processors and artisans, bringing this diversity of perspective, knowledge and skill to the task of developing an ecologically-focused rural fibre economy.

atlantic canada fibreshed logo Canadian Organic Growers

The Atlantic Canada Fibreshed includes New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. (photo credit Charlene Thompson)

The Atlantic Canada Fibreshed

She just wanted to learn how to weave. Charlene Thompson, who lives in St. John, New Brunswick, began her fibreshed journey simply looking for a local weaving teacher and local weaving materials. Finding few resources around her, she started searching online. There she discovered Rebecca Burgess and the Fibershed movement. A year later and she’s spear-heading the Atlantic Canada Fibreshed.

Today, most wool in New Brunswick is considered a by-product of meat production. But Thompson has her eye on that wool and its latent potential.

How, she asks, can we best use the resources around us while investing in our environmental well-being and honouring our heritage? Inspired by the hefted nature of Harris Tweed, Thompson is working with regional processors to uncover ways of transforming local wool into a unique, Atlantic Canada fibre product.

Thompson’s current task is to coordinate resources, raise awareness and generally connect all of the hidden fibre gems of Atlantic Canada. Despite this daunting endeavour, her dreams are even bigger.

In-province production of New Brunswick’s tartan with home-grown fibre and labour, a Harris Tweed inspired Atlantic Canada blanket, and increased local production capacity are just a few of the ideas on her horizon.

 

upper canada mercantile Upper Canada Fibreshed Canadian Organic Growers

Blankets from Upper Canada Mercantile, a part of the Upper Canada Fibreshed, from sheep to finished product. (photo credit Becky Porlier)

So How Do You Fibreshed?

Clearly, the verb to fibreshed means to take action in developing your local fibre economy, supporting regenerative agriculture, reclaiming garment production and beyond.

It is the events you plan, the ideas you share, the education you offer and the connections you foster. Of course, it all looks very different depending on geography, resources and needs, but, as we know, diversity is strength.

Considering all of the fibreshed action going on across the country, perhaps it’s time to stop talking about fibreshed as an abstract idea. Instead, let’s start asking each other “so how do you fibreshed?”

 

 

Raised on a farm and living in the big city, Sarah Jean Harrison is a digital storyteller that specializes in translating rural realities for urban audiences. Through web design, branding and social media strategy, Sarah Jean supports farmers and makers in sharing their unique story with an online audience. Sarah Jean loves to connect and can be found on Instagram and Twitter at @peaceflaghouse and at www.peaceflaghouse.com.

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This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.

This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.

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