Bioregional Fibershed

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John Thackara:

"Rebecca Burgess, founder of Fibershed, in California, is confident that “fiber will follow food” in public’ awareness. She began Fibershed with a challenge, to herself, to wear clothes sourced and dyed within a 150 mile radius from her front door for a year. The essential elements for a bioregional fibershed were in place, Burgess discovered: animals, plants and people, skills, spinning wheels, knitting needles, floor looms. But there was a lack of connectivity between the many different actors. The many small farmers and producers within her region were doing great work – but on a small scale and, for the most part, below the radar.

“Our priority is to integrate vertically” explains Burgess, “from soil to skin”. As a first step in connecting the fibershed’s actors, an inaugural Wool and Fine Fiber Symposium in 2012 (and repeated in 2013) brought together the region’s producers, shearers, artisans, designers, knitters, fiber entrepreneurs, and clothes-wearing citizens. They discussed what it would it take to bring ‘farm-fresh’ clothing to the region. All manner of fine-grain issues emerged: flock health; rotational grazing; weed management; predator issues; breeding for fiber, color attributes; milling and fiber processing capacity. A Wool Inventory Mapping Project was then launched to collect data on everyone operating a dairy, ranch, farm or homestead with one or more fiber producing animals. Data from the Wool Inventory Map will be used to assess the scale, scope and location of future fiber processing facilities. Also in development is a prototyping & education facility, called FiberLab.

Can a fibershed-scale production feasibly clothe today’s large human communities, and affordably? It depends on how you define and measure such ‘needs’. Burgess concedes that fibershed systems are small scale right now, and that locally grown, dyed, and made garments can therefore be expensive and scarce. But these are early days: as shared production facilties and network coordination improve, she says, small fibersheds will link together in pan-regional networks to share knowledge and facilities in ways that improve supply." (