From Movies to Wool: Farm Enjoys Success in Fiber Milling
By Ross McSwain
(February 1, 2012) Two creative people, exhausted from working in the fast paced, stress-laden film industry, are having success in a completely different field of work where their mutual artistic skills are an important factor in creating textiles.
Jared and Jennifer Fleury spent nearly 20 years in the West Coast film and television industry, where they met. Both were involved in creative endeavors, but Jennifer’s hobbies of knitting, spinning and sewing led them to a career change.
“Her interest in fiber and fiber animals is actually what led us to discover the cottage mill industry,” Jared said. “She was buying roving and tossing out teaser words like ‘pin drafting’.”
They had been giving some thought about escaping big city life and moving to the country. The couple left the West Coast for picturesque Clarkesville, Ga. In 2005, they became the proud owners of a small textile mill and some farm acreage where they keep a small flock of Shetland and Corriedale-cross sheep, some Angora goats and Llamas.
The couple secured space in an old Clarkesville mill that used to produce a synthetic woven sheer curtain material. The mill closed down operations in 1980, and since that time space has been made available to a variety of businesses, including the Fleury Mill, a bowling alley, antique store, a toy shop, art supply store, a sporting goods outlet and several non-retail businesses.
“We have 1,700 square feet and we are bursting at the seams,” Jared said. “There is probably room to expand if we so choose. Fiber, it turns out, is very bulky.”
The Fleury team does all the mill work themselves with the assistance of one part-time employee. As the mill grows, Jared hopes to have two to three full-time employees once new machinery is in place. Financing for the mill is being provided by a loan from the National Livestock Producers Association (NLPA) Sheep & Goat Fund. Most of the equipment is new, coming from Stonehedge Fiber Milling in Michigan, another project helped by the loan program.
Jared said he learned about the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund from Chuck McDermott of Stonehedge.
“I would absolutely recommend the Sheep & Goat Fund to others,” Jared said. “They (NLPA) provided us with a great loan and excellent terms.”
“As my interest grew in the fiber milling field, I put together a survey to send to fiber producers and fiber crafters to determine if there was, in fact, enough of a need to support a small-scale mill in the southeastern United States,” Jared said. “At the time there were only two other mills in our area and both focused on Alpaca and Llama fiber. The market appeared to be solid.”
Jared observed that while the milling business has been in decline in recent years, small-scale processing for producers with five to 50 animals has been growing.
“We found more small-scale fiber producers in our area than we ever thought existed,” he said.
According to the Fleurys, their core market is custom processing raw fiber from the small sheep farmer. They clean, pick, card and spin it into a finished product. The Fleury Mill works in small quantities - anywhere from a single fleece that a customer hand selects from a wool show to a full clip from 50 or more animals.
More information about the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund, including the application, an informative slideshow presentation, descriptions of funded projects, news and industry links, is available at www.sheepandgoatfund.com .
The NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund is available to qualified applicants at a competitive interest rate. (Please call for current rates). Some basic information about the fund includes:
- Loans are available in amounts up to $1 million per applicant.
- Sole proprietors are ineligible, but most other legal entities are eligible (partnerships, corporations, etc.).
- Rates and terms are determined during the approval process.
- The fund is delivered through either direct loans or loan guarantees - grants are not available.