‘Have you any wool?’

White Barn Sheep and Wool in Gardiner brings knitters back to the farm

by Mike Townshend
Paula Kucera of White Barn Sheep and Wool Farm in Gardiner with her beloved Cormos. A tempting selection of locally produced yarns is available for purchase at the White Barn Sheep and Wool Farm in Gardiner.
On Albany Post Road in Gardiner, a big white barn, complete with a big “Knit Local” sign and silos, sits surrounded by fields where small flocks of sheep graze, wearing what look like little white undershirts. Inside this big barn Paula Kucera tends a knitting shop with walls lined with basket after basket of yarn, knitting needles, guidebooks and other helpful accessories. Kucera smiles as she multitasks: she talks to a customer, makes sure the customer’s dog isn’t getting into too much trouble, purchases a load of handmade knitting-needle cases from a local artisan, and she cranks the handle of a large wooden rack to transfer loose yarn to a neatly wound ball.

Now a shepherd with a flock of one dozen, Kucera originally made a name for herself in New York City as a decorator and mural artist. She moved to Gardiner about 15 years ago with her husband to raise the kids, and they bought and rescued the farm, which was about to be split up into a subdivision.

She kept a substantial garden on her property and got dibs from local green technology fans for the solar panel array that powers her entire household. However, even with all the fresh veggies for the family, something seemed like it was missing.

“It seemed to me that you can’t own this amount of land and treat it like your front yard. It needs to be active,” Kucera says.

As foodies and environmentalists rush to support local agriculture, one kind of traditional farm seems to have strangely been left out of the mix -- the local sheep farm where the shears come out every spring to collect the wool. By starting White Barn Sheep and Wool Farm, Kucera hopes to change that and get people just as interested in local wool and yarn as they might be in organic heirloom tomatoes.

In September, White Barn opened up the yarn store to complete the picture. People talk about the disconnect between modern man and his food, but the disconnect between man and natural fabric is just about as flagrant.

“It’s kind of mind-blowing,” Kucera says. “It doesn’t get off the sheep on its own.”

The shepherdess and yarn store matron says she has no plans to use her flock for anything other than wool production. She knows them all by name and thinks of them as pets, almost. The yarn store’s advertisement even features a saucy picture of the ram wearing a colorful blue-and-green knit cap.

Another thing Kucera hopes the White Barn helps solve is to give local crafters some new options.

“It just seemed everywhere I was looking, local yarn shops were closing. What I do is try to support local wool,” she says. “I know there’s like an infinite number of people out here that are crafting.”

The knitting store features some yarn from the sheep just outside, other local yarns and recycled commercial yarns. There’s also a certain novelty to going to buy yarn and knitting gear and seeing Mr. “Baa Baa Black Sheep” face to face. “I’m finding that everybody who comes in here is really excited.”

Kucera doesn’t find the jump from artist to shepherdess too big a leap -- it combines two of her biggest loves: nature and crafting. “I just happen to like both.”

White Barn not only sells wool, but they also have classes for beginners and the “Knit Local Café” where local crafters can come, meet each other and share tips.

“It’s totally fun. It’s fun to have people meeting each other,” she says.

Knit Local Café meets every Wednesday night from 7-9 p.m. and again on Thursday mornings from 9-11 a.m. For more information and for hours of operation, head to www.whitebarnsheepandwool.com.

© 2010