Karen Schlossberg is a member of the Chesapeake Fibershed Producer Program. I had the pleasure of visiting with her earlier this month.
Karen Schlossberg may have grown up in the city, but she always knew she wasn’t a city person.
It seemed natural to her to move to the country despite never having lived in a place without sidewalks and streetlights. When she bought her property in Montgomery County, Maryland, she was single, in her 20s, and she thought farm living could be fun. This seemingly out of the blue decision early in her life became the start of Avalon Springs Farm.
Karen found a house on a few acres that had been empty for months. Even in its dilapidated condition (there was a possum residing in the living room!), Karen was happier in her country home than in her city apartment. While fixing up her house, Karen decided to take some classes from the Maryland University Extension Service as a place to start thinking and learning about what she could possibly raise. She took farming classes, and quickly learned that farming was not an easy way to make money. Her instructors recommended that whatever she decided to grow, it should be compatible with her personality and interests so the hard work would be more satisfying.
“I grew up loving art and I became an art educator and artist. When I stumbled into combining my dream of small farming with an agricultural application to art, I knew could use textiles as an artistic outlet. While I didn’t know what I would do with the fiber, I did know that I had to make a product that meshed with my art background.”
“It happened to be springtime and I went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival to research what people were making with wool and fiber products. I thought I was going to be inspired by what people made but then I came across the Liberty Ridge Farm booth and the angora goats just took my breath away. I fell madly in love with them and knew I would get along with their personalities. I was sure this was the right thing for me, and I had faith I would learn how to do the farming and the fiber art.
The first hurdle was learning how to raise goats. While she had the typical childhood pets of hamsters, cats and dogs, there was definitely a learning curve. She put her fiber art dreams on hold while she learned to tend for her goats. In time it all came together. “My experience on the farm has made me truly understand why agriculture is intergenerational. It really takes a generation to become an expert, I see why you would want to pass that down. Growing up with it creates an amazing storehouse of knowledge. I do not know if my own kids understand how much they know – because I had to learn it, they just lived it and learned along side of me. Right when you think you have Mother Nature figured out, She makes sure to humble you again. But, even with the uncertainties, it is still very much a wonderful, wonderful thing!”
With her farm business well established, Karen spends time helping to educate people about mohair fiber. “Sometimes I think mohair fiber is undervalued as a garment fiber. Because of its long staple length and strength, it was often used in applications other than clothing. Small breeders like myself are breeding for fineness, lock structure, and luster. After 20+ years, I think I’ve got some pretty nice mohair as do all my Angora goat farm friends. As a small farmer, I select for the best fiber from my herd to go into my blends for yarn and roving. And, darn, if the nicest fiber of all going into my products comes from the mohair.” Karen also breeds for natural colors, and has a variety of reds, whites and greys in her flock.
Any fiber breed has both finer and scratchy fleeces, and Karen reminded me that we should never over generalize about specific breeds when shopping locally for fiber. Karen recommends that wool users put their hand in bags of mohair fiber and see for themselves how good it can feel.
Karen’s artistic side is now expressed in the beautiful yarns that she makes and dyes from her farm wool. You can find her products at https://avalonspringsfarm.com/shop/ You can also visit the farm & shop by appointment. The farm is also open one weekend each month for the Fiber Art Studio Tour.
See you there!