Fiber-bearing animals, and the next generation of shepherds, are the focus of the 38th annual event.
It was damp and drizzly on Saturday at the New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival in Deerfield. But Wayne Welch, Vice-Chairman of the New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Growers Association, says there's no danger of sheep shrinking in the rain. “That's one good thing about natural wool,” he says with a laugh. “It's warm, it's sort of waterproof, and it's a good product.”
Welch says there's growing interest in natural wool, and in raising sheep and other fiber-bearing animals, like llamas, alpacas, and Angora goats.
That's reflected in the two-day festival, which draws about five thousand people over the course of the weekend. They come to see the animals, and watch demonstrations of everything from shearing to spinning to knitting to using sheepdogs. Farmers drop off raw wool to be processed, and vendors sell yarn by the skein.
Lis Barsuglia-Madsen is one of those vendors, selling yarn and knit items, and sharing patterns. “We have a very nice, well-educated crowd,” she says of the customers, “and a lot of them like to do their own thing, which makes it a lot more fun.”
Business looks good at the ticket gate, too, but ultimately, says David Kennard, one of the event's founders, it's all about education. “Any proceeds from this festival go towards scholarships for kids,” he explains. “It's really all about youth, because if we don't have youth, guess what: we don't have any farmers.”
Judging by the size of the crowd, it looks like New Hampshire's sheep and wool industry will stick around for generations to come.