Michigan Fiber Cooperative History

  

Michigan Fiber Cooperative – History

Vision

We are collaborating to promote the growth and profitability of the family farm by developing a market for fleece and fiber production in Michigan. 

Timeline

2011: Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) assigns a fiber grower/employee to work with alpaca and sheep producers. Monthly meetings: explore becoming a cooperative, research garment industry, research buyers such as yarn shops, prison systems, outdoor clothing shops, mills, textile companies, etc. Encourage research into alternative uses of animal fiber i.e. oil spill clean-up, etc.

 2012: Year 1: Three members apply for MSU grant to conduct a feasibility study – is a sorting center practical for Michigan producers? Perhaps explore the demand for fiber and the ability to supply. Or develop a strategic plan for the Michigan fiber and clothing sector? 

2013: Year 2: MFC founders agree to pursue becoming an official cooperative. Two more growers become members. (5 members) 

2014: Year 3. Fiber producers hold two fiber-farm open houses around the state and conduct a tour of Zeilinger’s Woolen Mill visit Pitchfork Ranch, all events coordinated by MDARD. 

2015: Year 4: MSU Product Center awards MFC with $15,000 to hire an attorney to write bylaws, articles of incorporation and business plan for MFC.  

2016: Year 5: MSU awards a $5,000 grant to MFC to hire an organizational management firm. Grant application to USDA requires a letter of intent from Co-Bank for a loan in the amount of $7,500. UDA awards $15,000 Value Added Producer Grant to process and market yarn. Three more growers become members. (8 members) 

2017: Year 6: USDA Value Added Producer Grant in full swing and 500 pounds of raw fiber became 1,000 skeins of luxurious yarn. Sales to yarn stores are in full swing. Three more growers become members. (11 members)   

Background

Animal fleece and fiber includes everything from Alpaca to Yak, but is most commonly associated with wool. These products can be felted, spun and woven into garments, car seats, rugs, boots, and even insulation. 

Animal fibers have been produced and processed in Michigan for commercial use for over 100 years. The following information has been provided by Michigan producers and associations: The Angora rabbit producers have started a cooperative whereby growers commit to supplying five pounds of fleece from their farms and they have up to 100 pounds processed into yarn at Zeilingers woolen mill in Frankenmuth. They receive their product back and market the yarn themselves.  We have 5 yak farmers in Michigan and they belong to a national cooperative that is just getting off the ground.  The Alpaca growers are the most organized and have a good handle on the number of animals in the state thus far, close to 8,000. The large producers are sending their fiber out-of-state/the country.  The Michigan Lama Association has numerous members who market their llama fiber. Most do so independently through local mills and sell at farm markets and fiber fairs. However, there is no organized effort for cooperative marketing opportunities. 

The mohair goat producers are many, and they generally sell to a cooperative out-of-state. The NAAS statistics on goats indicates Michigan has over 16,000 head “other than dairy,” which can also include meat, but historically represented angora goats. 

The wool growers are relying on the Michigan Sheep Breeders Association and are finding the MSBA concentrates on meat production. The NAAS stats indicate we have about 62,000 sheep producing wool in Michigan. Wool is usually given to the sheep shearers by the producer and the clip goes to a co-op in Ohio – they get an average of 43 cents/pound, no matter what type of wool it is – the Michigan wool clip was valued a $168,000 in 2009. – this is generally the wool from Suffolk, Hampshire and other commercial (meat) breeds.  

The U.S. Military has committed to buying fine wool from U.S. growers at $4/pound. To supply this demand, the American Sheep Industry (ASI) has a promotional campaign to increase the U.S. Flock by encouraging growers to keep more ewes in their flocks.  Additionally, the ASI funded the opening of an additional mill at Chargeurs Wool USA, in Jamestown, South Carolina. The mill processes fine wool into cloth for the military and consumer. One Michigan woolen mill already has a purchasing relationship with Chargeurs Wool.  The mill has shrink-resistant treatment equipment which alters the fiber in wool products, allowing them to be washed and dried without shrinking to meet "Total Easy Care" standards for consumers.  It was suggested that those who grow fine wool in Michigan already have outlets, and can demand an even higher price than $4/pound once value is added to the raw material. - i.e The Spinners Flock and other guilds in the state.  Some links that may be out there, but seem to be missing include a sorting center, marketing capabilities, and interest from the textile/garment industry.    

Milestones

Founded in January 2012. In 2013 the cooperative surveyed sheep producers throughout the state to determine interest and support.  

In 2014 the cooperative received technical assistance from Michigan State University’s Product Center for Agriculture Development to file papers and become a legal cooperative. Hired an attorney in Grand Rapids and filed papers with the IRS in 2015.

 In 2015 the MSU Product Center conducted a feasibility study for the Cooperative to determine if fine-fiber collection and high-end sales would be feasible for Michigan growers.  In 2016 MSU Product Center Assists MFC by awarding funds to hire an organizational management firm to help the growers run board meetings, hire an accountant, answer phones and apply for grants.  

MFC applies for and is awarded a 2016 USDA value-added grant in the amount of $15,000 to collect, process, market, and sell fine fiber yarn grown in Michigan over a three-year period.   

2017: MFC begins marketing luxury yarn with a free hat-and-mitts pattern by textile artist  Nancy McRay