Bare. Chafed. Exposed. Most words associated with raw are negative in connotation. We don’t want raw food, we feel raw when emotionally vulnerable. Raw is unprepared, undercooked, imperfect. When I look out over my farm on blowy, snowy days I feel that negativity rise towards the raw weather.
Yet as we start our journey into farming and wool production, raw changes. Fresh. New. Even unprepared is a positive. The raw soil will soon be alive with green-raw seeds spread and buried. We relish in picking raw, fresh vegetables from the ground and eating them-dirt and all. Unprepared. Undercooked. No one who has ever sampled a store bought carrot next to the raw, straight-from-the-garden carrot will say it is better.
Spring changes the ugliness of that raw day into a pure form of life. Lambs, calves, kids face the raw world with their mothers. They are unprepared. We are unprepared. Yet they come in a beautiful, life affirming rawness that is inescapable. Their mothers provide us raw milk, long scorned by society as bad-because it was raw. Generations drank raw milk, until we turned to safer, bland, pasteurized milk. Now Montana has a law allowing small producers to sell that fresh, unprepared, imperfect milk. For all of our efforts to turn away from the raw, we find ourselves coming back.
On our farm, the best use of raw is our sheep. As April rings in, it is time to shear. Those layers that protected our flocks when the raw wind dropped the temperatures well below 0 will be clipped off. The animals will be fresh, clean, new. Raw. Their true shape is revealed, they are freer to run, play. And we find comfort in that raw wool. The most unprepared is full fleeces, sold for rugs. We skirt down raw wool- that which is unsalvageable returns to the earth to warm and protect the raw plants. The rest is cleaned (perhaps making it even more new and raw?), carded, spun into a new form that is nonetheless raw, clean, new.
It is no wonder that raw wool is highest in demand. Customers want to see that change from fleece to yarn. They want to be part of the process, guide the steps, they decide what will take shape. Beyond yarn, raw wool has a variety of sustainable, natural uses. Raw wool can be soaked in water for a day-the water becomes a concentrated fertilizer for plants. A basic internet search reveals a plethora of sites on wool pellets as well as using raw wool as fertilizer. The raw attributes of wool aid in water retention, weed prevention, and a slow release fertilizer.
Our attitudes change towards the concept of raw. Raw brings change, growth, rebirth. The cold snowy days set in moisture we need for the vegetables to be eating out of the garden, for grass to feed the sheep who grow wool. The garden scraps feed the chickens, who provide fertilizer for more ground. The sheep contribute their wool to their process, benefiting from the raw, natural growth they feed on. All things become new. Fresh. And it is ourselves we find unprepared for it all.
Jon Moore, of Hoof and Paw Farm, raises Icelandic, BFL, and Painted Desert sheep on a small farm near Helena, MT. They offer raw fleece and prepared fiber.