Gardenista Magazine features Black Mountain Farm
Black Mountain Farm: The Angora Rabbits of West Marin
November 18, 2014 11:00 AM
BY Cheryl Locke
Call it the soil-to-skin movement. In Northern California, Marnie Jackson of Black Mountain Farm raises and shears angora rabbits for their fibers (which are finer and softer than cashmere). As a member of Fibershed, a non-profit organization, which promotes local production of natural fibers, she dyes the yarn with native plants and processes it locally, on her family farm.
Jackson lives in Marin County, about 45 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge in the picturesque rolling hills of Nicasio, with her husband, Whit, and her son and daughter. Last weekend, Jackson spoke to a group of urban homesteaders and yarn enthusiasts, demonstrating how to shear a rabbit and transform the fiber to yarn. It’s an intensive process:
Photography by Alycia Lang, except where noted.
Jackson shears rabbits every three months, or whenever she finds time between tending to her menagerie of sheep, chickens, horses, turkeys, dogs, and bees.
“In a nutshell,” Jackson explains, “you must shear the animal; skirt the wool; wash the wool (around 15 times); dry it for three days; spin it; wash it again; hang it to dry; ply it with another single ply of yarn.”
And that is just to produce a skein or ball of yarn. “If you want something other than the natural color of the animal, you have to dye it, which is a 13-step process,” she said.
That’s before you start knitting.
Someday Fibershed, the non-profit organization to which she belongs, hopes to build its own wool mill, a zero-waste facility to: recycle 100 percent of the water it uses to wash wool;compost by-products; purchase raw materials from California farmers, and spin and weave yarn into fabrics for manufacturers. For more information, watch Fibershed founder Rebecca Burgess’ plan for the facility and the sustainable practices behind it.
About 32 miles from San Francisco, Black Mountain Farm is open for tours year-round though Jackson recommends spring visits for the baby rabbits and goats. For information, see Blackmountainfarm.net.
Marnie spent her childhood in Arenzano, Italy, a small fishing village on the Ligurian coast (near Cinque Terre), and lived near one of the region’s many established, self-sustaining farms. Hoping to instill a respect for the land and food supply in her two children, she moved from Palo Alto to establish Black Mountain Farm ten years ago.
Jackson shears her German and English angora rabbits with everyday kitchen scissors, and she’s observed the rabbits relax and enjoy it. “They get to itch places that they don’t usually get to itch.” Photograph courtesy of Marnie Jackson.
Above: One of Black Mountain Farm’s prized products is a knit hat, made of two fused yarns: angora for softness and wool for strength. Jackson encourages us to “think wool.” Not just environmentally friendly, natural fibers are better for your skin and “wool doesn’t retain body odor.”
If you are interested in taking an educational tour of the farm or staying in the pondhouse pictured below please contact Marnie Jackson at 415 662 1050 or find us on AirBnB Black Mountain Farm Pondhouse.