I am so excited to have gotten the chance to speak with Amy Lewis of Northern Roots Family Farm for our Women in Business series!
Born and raised in Peace River, Amy has set roots down on a farm on the outskirts of Peace River. You can often find Amy hanging out with her cows and sheep, or with her hands buried in the dirt. You will be able to find all of Amy and the Northern Roots Family Farm information at the bottom of the page.
Can you tell me a little bit about your farm and business?
Although not having been raised on a farm, growing up both my husband and I spent time with our grandparents and learning from them and their farm life. From grain farming, raising livestock, gardening, cooking, to preserving food; those farming seeds were planted deep within us and in time blossomed into a dream to own a farm of our own.
As a couple, we became increasingly aware of where our food was coming from, the welfare of the animals being raised for our food and the state of the environment. We wanted our children to have a role in raising their food, as well as an understanding and connection to the natural world.
On Northern Roots Family Farm we raise Dexter and Canadienne cows for both beef and milk, chickens, Shetland and Icelandic sheep, pigs, and occasionally honeybees. We also have a couple of large vegetable gardens, fruit trees, berry bushes and wild areas for foraging. From our farm we sell grass-finished beef, pastured lamb and pork, free range eggs, raw honey, as well as a variety of handcrafted items made and inspired with ingredients from our farm such as artisanal soap, beeswax wraps, yarn, wool dryer balls, and more.
Is there a meaning behind your business name?
Northern Roots Family Farm is about coming home to our roots.
Our roots in the north.
Our roots in farming.
It’s about us as a family, working the land in a small northern town that we love. Peace River is my home and my families history is in the north so that means a lot to me. It’s about nourishing the roots of the soil and of our soul. It’s a connection to our ancestors and how they farmed; their love and appreciation of the land, good food and traditions.
What does a typical day in the life look like for you?
A typical day starts by getting up at 6:00 am and getting our boys Ben (10) and Charlie (7) ready for school and onto the bus. Once they are off, I go in the house and usually have some quiet time drinking coffee, having breakfast and reading.
Around 8:30 am I suit up in my farm gear and head outside to milk the cow. After milking the cow I process/strain/cool the milk and then I make sure her area is mucked clean or move her onto fresh pasture. Next, I mix up our chicken feed and haul feed/ water to the chickens and collect eggs. Following the chickens, I check on the sheep and our beef cows to ensure that they have feed or moved to new pasture, fresh water, and salt/mineral. If we have pigs at the time then I would also have to feed them and check their water.
In the afternoon, depending on the day, I might do deliveries to customers, be making soap or products for the markets, extra jobs on the farm (fixing a shelter/fencing/ sorting animals etc.), or emailing customers and taking orders.
How did you get into fiber arts and making products?
For as long as I can remember I have always had a fascination with wool and natural fibres. I was just as intrigued about working with wool as I was with the traditional skills of washing, carding and spinning wool. One year my husband took a leap of faith and without me knowing bought a few sheep. I immediately fell in love with them; our sheep continue to inspire me and are hands down one of my favourite parts of farming.
Over the years, I attended a variety of fibre arts classes which peaked my interest in both needle and wet felting. I really love working with wool in its raw form and showcasing its natural beauty. I especially loved not following a pattern or guide and found it both freeing and therapeutic. In terms of the process of skirting, washing, carding and spinning wool that was a blend of reading books, trial and error and meeting local friends that had similar interests. Spinning is meditative and I use it as much as a form to de-stress and relax as I do to be creative.
As our farm grew, so did the products and by-products of our farming. With beekeeping came not only honey; but beeswax, propolis. From raising livestock and butchering came tallow, lard, skulls and hides. Being a shepherd, there were bags upon bags of beautiful wool fleeces each spring. Gardens became lush with flowers, herbs and veggies. So I combined my passion for traditional skills and sustainable living, by incorporating these into our farm crafted products. Tallow, flowers and honey into handcrafted soaps, wool was washed and carded into roving for hand spinners or felted into eco-friendly dryer balls, and wax and propolis into beeswax wraps.
Can you describe the fiber making process for me?
The fibre making process starts with raising sheep bred specifically for their wool. We breed Shetland and Icelandic sheep and choose genetics within our flock that are hardy, vigorous and have beautiful lustrous wool.
We feed specifically with their wool in mind. Feeding low to the ground to keep vegetable matter (hay, straw, chaff) out of their fleeces is a key component to keeping the wool clean.
Shearing takes place before lambing and is hired out to a professional shearer. It is a long full day of sorting and handling sheep, hauling, skirting and bagging wool.
Once the fleeces are off the sheep they are hauled to our wool shack where they are skirted on a skirting table. Skirting the fleece is the act of removing any dung tags, hay, or chaff that still might on the fleece. Each fleece is assessed to its quality and characteristics for how it would be best utilized.
The best fleeces are sold whole as raw fleeces to hand spinners or fiber artists. Some fleeces are made into wool roving or spun into yarn. I usually pick a couple of my favourites as personal projects to work on and process myself or to sell at the market. As a family we make a trip to the wool mill down south to take our wool to get made into yarn, roving, batting for quilting etc.
Nothing is wasted from our wool. Remnants of wool not kept for making products is used somehow on the farm as mulch, insulation, or other ways.