Turning Sonoma farm fleece into natural household wool products
Sonoma Wool Company
“It started with a love of the land, and all that it provides,” the website tells us. “Food, fiber, wildlife habitat, clean air, and water.”
Like many embarking on a farm-based business, Amy Chesnut found herself drawn to rural life and the values it held.
With 11 years’ experience as acquisitions director at the Sonoma Land Trust, Amy grew to have a love for land, for the seasons, for nature, and for all that lifestyle can provide. Along the way she met and worked with ranchers and forest owners sharing similar principles.
One of them was Joe Pozzi, a dedicated and successful rancher in Valley Ford, Calif. For more than 40 years, Pozzi has raised natural, grass-fed lambs and cattle throughout Sonoma and Marin counties and is now a force in the American sheep industry. "Watching him work, seeing his passion, and listening to his story, helped to connect the dots for me from a land conservation perspective,” Amy tells us.
Joe Pozzi developed a set of standards for his wool in 1993 and began exploring selling his coarse wool for markets other than clothing.
With the dots connected, it was clear to Amy that farms like Pozzi’s ranching and wool operation was the way for her to go: Sustainable, organic, and natural became more than buzzwords, and she embraced one particular aspect of his operation—value.
Value added, stewardship borne
Since the 1990’s Joe Pozzi worked with other ranchers to turn what was once a low-value commodity into value-added wool products.
He developed a market for local wool to be used in natural bedding products, selling it to bedding manufacturers throughout the United States.
With Pozzi’s entrepreneurial spirit behind them, local ranchers went from receiving 16 cents to 75 cents a pound for their wool.
Pozzi was selling more than 200,000 pounds of greased wool throughout the U.S., creating the natural bedding products industry.
Beginning business steps
Joe and Amy joined forces to create the Sonoma Wool Company. Amy continues: “So, Joe had available wool, and I started experimenting with it to develop practical wool products for the home, as well as creating our own bedding products which highlight using wool from family-owned ranches in the United States.”
She bought a small, cottage-industry sized felting loom in the spring of 2013 and set it up in the barn on the Pozzi Ranch, learning to make products on nights and weekends.
“In the fall, I bought a booth space at the Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa, California, and people loved our products!”
The first item she produced is still on the books, the Wool Dish Drying Mat. This is an all-natural alternative to the ubiquitous micro-fiber dish drying mats. “Wool absorbs up to 30% of its weight in moisture, so it is a natural absorptive, and, due to its breathability, the moisture naturally evaporates from the mat,” Amy tells us.
This makes it naturally mold- and mildew-resistant, as long as it has time to work its magic between uses.
From crafts to a business
Amy realized she had to help people “Re-Discover the Wonders of Wool” (and it’s now their company motto). Although humans have used wool for thousands of years in clothing, shelter, bedding and even for medicinal purposes, development of synthetics in the 20th Century drew people away from natural fibers.
“I believe the qualities of work and uses of wool were more easily understood,” before synthetics.
So, how did Amy go from selling craft-made products at farmers markets and festivals to a nationwide business?
“The biggest issue I had was scaling up. Wool manufacturing is a shrinking industry, and finding mills to make our products on a large scale was challenging,” she says. Fortunately, there are a few mills still operating on the East Coast. “After some sleuthing, I was able to find a wonderful mill to work with to make our felted wool products,” Amy says.
All aspects of Sonoma Wool Company’s wool product creation occur domestically. “We choose to keep all of the wool processing for our products here in the United States.”
Luxurious fibers give luxury products
Today, Amy’s Sonoma Wool Company offers some of the finest household and comfort products available for bedding, kitchen, home and laundry, and more. How about using wool’s natural breathability as a comfortable mattress topper? Or a wool pillow or comforter for chilly nights?
Kitchen products include the aforementioned Wool Dish Drying Mat, while home offerings include a Wool Ironing Board Pad or Pressing Pad, Wool Dryer Balls, and even Wool Shoe Insoles for shoes or slippers.
Your pets deserve the best, too—the Sonoma Wool Company offers dog and cat toys, and a wool “cat-mat” for finicky felines.
Shop the company offerings at sonomawoolcompany.com.
Hands-on fiber experience
Today, Amy has relocated from California to historic Brewster, Mass. which is said to be the home of America’s first fulling (cleaning and thickening) mill.
They will soon be opening a Sonoma Wool Company shop in Brewster, where you can learn about the history and unique qualities of wool fiber, and purchase their products.
“We want to help people understand and connect the dots between supporting family ranches and protecting the land for all of the benefits it provides—wildlife habitat, clean water, clean air, carbon sequestration, and climate change adaptation,” Amy says.
“We’ll have our little felting loom, so school kids can come and visit, and within minutes, magically turn wool batting into a hot pad for their moms and dads.”
How much does Amy believe in her products? A few years ago she bought an inn in Cape Cod, Mass. Every room features a complete Sonoma Wool Company bedding set, so guests can feel for themselves how the natural properties of wool produce a great night’s sleep.
For more information:
Sonoma Wool Company sonomawoolcompany.com
Pozzi Ranches pozziranch.net
Amy’s inn, Brewster By The Sea brewsterbythesea.com
Here's how wool gets turned into products, from How It's Made