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Network of farmers, artists give focus to natural fibers
Ohio Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — There are annual fiber shows in Ohio which serve as meeting places for weavers, artists and even farmers. But one woman’s website has helped fiber producers and artists stay connected, not just through annual get-togethers but by monthly meetings and at any time via the Internet.

“Our diversity is our strength,” said Karen Burke of Seville, creator of the Ohio Natural Fiber Network (ONFN). “This network is dedicated to supporting Ohio fiber producers and artists, and to develop awareness of the diversity and beauty of Ohio farm yarns and fleeces.”

Fiber enthusiasts often have to wait for a scheduled gathering to share ideas, display their creations or even make a sale. Burke’s website at www.ohio connects fiber artists across the state on a one-on-one basis.

Monthly meetings are usually held at a member’s home or farm. Each farm that has one maintains its own website where it offers high-quality products from natural fibers, though not all farms have such a site.

“Fiber farmers raise alpacas, llamas, sheep, goats and angora rabbits, while fiber artists dye, hook spin, knit, weave and felt the fiber into creative fiber art,” Burke said.

Burke, a Farm Bureau member, founded ONFN in 2008 after seeing the need to bring together fiber farmers, processors and artists. She realized fiber artists were seeking out more natural, locally produced yarns and fibers while many Ohioans are turning to farming as a second career or for supplementary income.
She started in the fiber business after gaining experience skirting and sorting wool as an independent contractor for a fiber mill. She eventually moved on to felting wool and invested in an electric flatbed felting machine, and began experimenting with creating wool products, including artistically felted wool scarves and baby clothing.

As she perfected her craft, Burke began teaching fiber art classes. Today she runs a multifold small business teaching classes in her studio, raising alpacas at her farm and running a yard and gift shop with several members’ goods on consignment.

Burke’s personal experiences ideally qualify her to lead this group that promotes self-reliance and sustainability. A lifelong suburbanite, she was inspired by a news article about raising alpacas for their valuable, soft fleece and gentle nature. She purchased her first alpaca in 2003 and a year later, bought a farm in Medina County.

As she expanded her alpaca herd she also learned the fiber business from the ground up. Today, she runs a yarn and gift shop that features produces made by ONFN members.

Through the ONFN network members can market their products and services, consult with animal experts, get advice from craftspeople and commune with others. According to Burke, members generously buy from one another rather than from Internet vendors in foreign countries.

“They don’t mind paying a few more dollars if they’re supporting each other,” she said, adding this way, they can be assured of the quality of the fleece and the standard of care.

Andrea Wargo of Grafton is now president of ONFN. “We hold our monthly meetings to help the farmers,” she said. “Our mission is to help these farmers. There are now 40 farmers in our network and those farmers are dealing with alpacas, llamas, sheep, goats and rabbits.

“Our organization is not restricted to farmers, though they comprise some of our membership.”

New to this organization, she explained, will be a Fiber of the Month Club. For more information about the website or to become a member of this network, contact Wargo at 440-829-3644 or Brighton