Sheep shearing attracts rainy-day crowds
Despite raindrops last Saturday, May 13, carloads of families, friends and other guests attended the spring shearing of the sheep flock at Watson Farm.
Volunteers displayed wool washing, cording, spinning, and weaving as expert sheepshearer Lara Sullivan relieved sheep of their fleece in the back barn. Every May, Don and Heather Minto, managers of Watson Farm, invite the public to celebrate farm life with the sheep shearing event and to learn more about the inner workings of the farm.
This year the sheep stayed under cover with heat lamps and fans to keep the thick wool coats dry and fluffy for shearing. Young lambs wandered in the pen and watched as the 44 adults shed their winter coats. Because of the rain, all demonstrations at the farm were under pitched canopies.
The Minto family and farmhands greeted visitors and talked about the activities on the property and the important role the farm has within the community.
Heather Minto demonstrated weaving a herringbone design on a wooden loom with foot pedals. "Ultimately I want to turn this (woven fabric) into a vest," she said. Minto also said that the children in the Farm Kids program at Watson Farm try their hands at operating the loom. Taught by Minto, Farm Kids is a six-week farming education program for fifth and sixth-graders that takes place after school. "We work with the transition from spring to summer," Minto noted, adding that another morning program for kids begins in the summer when school is out.
Minto also noted that the Friendship Garden, a gardening program for the Jamestown Teen Center, was in its second year. "We plant a lot of flowers every year. Part of our mission here at Watson Farm is to educate," she said. According to Minto, the teens learn about planting vegetables and flowers, pollinating, harvesting, and seed saving.
Many youngsters and teens appeared at the farm last weekend to help out and have fun.
Joseph Randle, 10, from Peacedale, turned a hand-held yarn spinner as his mother, Kerry,
watched. "We plan on getting sheep ourselves, so we came to learn," Kerry said. Volunteer Nancy Lush pulled the spinning yarn into a friendship bracelet for Joseph.
Lush explained the steps of the Sheep to Shawl project, which is a hands-on educational experience for the Farm Kids participants. "First we shear the sheep and wash the wool," she said. Lush noted that saved onion skins were boiled to make a natural yellow dye for the wool. She went on to explain how to cord the wool, using brush-like tools to pull wool out of clumps into straight pieces. "The kids learn to drop-spin the corded wool to make yarn," Lush said, pointing to demonstrators inside the barn entrance. In addition to using drop spindles, four women were operating spinning wheels.
On the way to the back barn where the sheep were showcased, Jared Hartley of Winsor Blacksmith in Foster showed visitors how he made traditional tools by heating iron or steel in a coal forge. "A scrap yard is like a gold mine for a blacksmith," he commented as he hammered a hot rod of steel into a drive hook.
Forest Beutel, a regular worker at the farm, sold all natural beef hot dogs made from the farm's own grass-fed cattle. "I like to help out any way I can," Beutel said as hungry mouths devoured the beefy dogs. Beutel noted that the meat would be available for sale at the Coastal Growers' Farmers' Market for those who wanted more. The hot dogs were cooked in a cart donated for the day by Freddie Bing from the Pizza House.
Next to the cart was a table filled with cookies and brownies baked by members of the Teen Center. Minto's daughter Melissa, coordinator of the Teen Center, noted that the teens would use the money raised toward expenses in the Friendship Garden. Melissa and her sister Kristin lead the teenagers in the gardening program.
All proceeds from the entrance fee and farm products at the farm day event go to Historic New England, a regional organization that preserves buildings, landscapes, and objects reflecting New England life from the 17th century to present day.
"People sure like to visit the farm," commented Don Minto with a smile on his face. Minto expressed his gratitude to all who participated to make the day a success, and invited all to visit the farm when it is open this summer.