How wooly heads wisely prevail

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Kimberly Sherman
Globe Correspondent / July 6, 2008

PUTNEY, Vt. - There are not too many places worth visiting that greet guests with the smell of livestock. But those who venture into the tiny, farm-scented retail shop at the Green Mountain Spinnery are rewarded with the chance to browse racks of colorful patterns, displays of knitted projects, and buckets of yarns in a gritty working mill with a story to tell.

The Spinnery is a kind of business not completely uncommon in Vermont: a worker-owned cooperative that supports regional farms and seeks environmentally responsible ways to do business - in this case, processing natural fibers.

Entering its 27th year of operation, the Spinnery lays claim to being the first custom mill to concentrate on producing yarns that have had no exposure to petroleum products or other chemicals. It produces custom yarns for clients and its own line of organic products.

Staying committed to such a mission requires that each worker-owner be willing to wear many hats. Maintaining the Spinnery's processing equipment, much of which is 60 to 100 years old, while staying true to its green practices presents daily challenges.

"The Spinnery has many of the same goals most small businesses have: to remain sustainable, both financially and environmentally, increase sales, and be profitable," said Margaret Atkinson of the Spinnery staff. "We are working on long-term goals like increasing our energy efficiency, reducing environmental impact, and revamping our physical plant."

The Spinnery is equally committed to fostering relationships with regional sheep growers. Staff members serve as a resource for farmers with issues such as flock management for fiber production.

"Our main customers are looking for natural-fiber yarns of the highest quality," said Atkinson. "And because nearly all of our fibers are American-grown, minimally processed, and made right here in Vermont, our customers keep on coming back."

The working space of the mill could double as the town's haunted house, as walls, machinery, and even people come to be draped in fuzzy fibers.

Guides offer lessons on the Spinnery's process, which begins with washing and scouring wool that is then carded or separated and straightened and sent to the spinning frame to be turned into yarn. The freshly-spun yarn is steamed and undergoes further processing and cleaning before it's ready to be sold.

"While all that is going on, new orders are taken, products are packed, invoices are written. We also have direct sales in the shop and run tours," Atkinson said. "It has taken time and commitment to achieve this harmony."

The Spinnery runs year-round but quiets during the late winter and early spring. The lull does not last long, however, as the mill revs up for the spring sheep and wool festivals around New England.

The energy levels at the Spinnery make you feel as if you could be put to work at any moment, and that you might want to be.

If You Go

Kimberly Sherman can be reached at ksherman@fresh

Green Mountain Spinnery

7 Brickyard Lane, Putney, Vt.


Monday-Friday 9 a.m.- 5:30 p.m., Saturday 10-5:30, Sunday noon-4. Tours first and third Tuesdays each month at 1:30 and by arrangement.

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