Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I missed it again ...

The second occasion of World Wide Knit In Public Day ( that is. Well, I sort of KIP'd as we were house guests at a friend's home. Next year, I'll be more out there with my KIP as it will be the third weekend in June, a date that works better for our family.

For some reason my tweenage daughter has become enamored of llamas, and since she was so patient all weekend with grownups ignoring her, I rewarded her with a side trip to an Alpaca Ranch at Mesick, Michigan. Actually, it was a totally unplanned detour: when I saw a small roadside sign indicating the alpaca ranch was just .7 miles off to the left, I made the turn. Oh, my goodness! Big Willows Alpaca Ranch ( is beautifully situated in the rolling hills of Wexford County, a lovely century-old farm (the house is new but appropriate for the setting). As we drove in the driveway trying to determine if visitors are welcome on a weekday, our new friend Mary Jane Wieber came out to greet us. I explained that we were curious about Alpacas as well as llamas, and she gave us the grand tour. What a delightful experience!

As she explained to us about the family relationships of the young alpacas and their moms, and showed us around the small barn and the alpacas little meadow, I could tell my daughter was falling in love. We went to a second barn to meet the patriarchs of the herd, and they are just as docile as their female counterparts. There is one llama in the herd, and I have to agree with daughter that he is the cutest thing I've ever seen.

Of course, as a knitter, no trip is complete without one stop at a yarn store ... little did I expect to find a new favorite LYS in the middle of nowhere. Mary Jane admitted that she is not a knitter, although she does do the loom knitting. But her small shop is full of the most luscious yarn I've ever laid hands on. As she explained the process to me, the fleeces are sent to a processor on the east side of the state, then to a spinner in northern Michigan to create a variety of yarns. In an undyed state, the yarn from her lovely flock is almost a rainbow of its own ... she names each yarn for the animal that produced the fleece, and sorts her yarn by family: that is, one rack will hold the yarn produced by mother and her several offspring, or by sire and his offspring. I finally settled on three 250-yard hanks of handspun sportweight yarn that was spun using fleece from Carmichael, Diego, and Frenchee. Two of these guys are lighter color, the third guy produces black fleece, and the yarn is a beautifully heathered light grey. I can't wait to get it wound and on the needles.

In addition to finished yarns, the Weibers also sell bats, rovings, and handknit goods from craft cooperatives in Peru.

All in all, we had a lovely visit with the Wiebers and their herd. I have a feeling we'll be stopping there often on our frequent trips north.

A recent Detroit News feature article highlighted Michigan farms that have tried to survive the new world and local economy by diversifying their businesses. Of course, the article explored fruit farmers and mint farmers (two of our traditional crops); but it did mention "agri-tourism." If you and your family are looking for a close-to-home summer vacation, take the time to check with your state's department of tourism to find "apple house" or "herb farm" or "alpaca ranch." Farm families around the country are working hard to keep their traditions alive, and what an educational and fun opportunity for the family!