FOSSTON, Minn. (AP) — Inside a white metal building in a
northern Minnesota industrial park sit some of Stephanie Anderson’s prized
possessions: several old refurbished pieces of machinery that produce 100 pounds
of yarn a day.
“This came out of Washington,” Anderson said of one machine.
“It was in storage for I don’t know how many years. The spinning machine came
from Spain. And then our plying machine came from a carpet mill in Georgia.”
At capacity, eight to 10 people are needed to run Northern
Woolen Mills, which largely produces wool. The company’s machines also can spin
other fibers and employees are working on 700 pounds of bison yarn for an east
coast company that will use the yarn for socks.
Founded last year, the mill is finding unexpected markets
for its yarn, from the U.S. textile industry to Minnesota regional fiber artists
excited to find a locally made product. It’s also connecting with farmers in
search of a market for spring wool.
Among them is Junior Farder, a northern Minnesota farmer who
grows soybeans and wheat but who also has kept sheep for more than 50 years.
“It’s a little extra income, and they do a good job as far
as cleaning up around the buildings,” said Farder, 72. “They’re good
Spring shearing is a necessary chore. The heavy wool coat
has to come off before lambs are born and the temperatures warm.
Most of the income earned from sheep comes from selling
lambs in the fall. For years, Farder’s wool went to a broker and likely ended up
at a mill in Asia.
Minnesota has about 135,000 sheep, 12th largest population
in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Their wool has often not been worth the cost of shearing,
University of Minnesota Extension agent Jim Stordahl said. For farmers like
Farder, Anderson’s mill helped change that.
“One of the exciting things about this woolen mill is that
in the past there’s been years when Junior would tell you he basically gave the
wool away for the cost of shearing,” Stordahl told Minnesota Public Radio.
This year Farder will haul the wool 17 miles down the road
to Northern Woolen, which will pay him $1 a pound, or about $10, for each of his
The mill also received wool from as far away as Montana and
Texas. Bison hair comes from North Dakota.
Workers at the mill also spin llama, camel or dog hair
brought in by customers. It takes three days from the time the wool or hair is
washed until the yarn is spun and ready to use.
Anderson grew up in northern Minnesota and returned five
years ago after spending much of her career in hotel management and marketing.
She started the business last year after asking Bemidji Woolen Mills to make
The company’s managers declined her request because they
only make finished products. But they told Anderson people called every day with
the same request.
“So I said, ‘Well, if you’re getting calls every day and I
know these yarn companies are looking for places to go, why isn’t somebody doing
it?”‘ Anderson recalled. “And they said, ‘Nobody knows the textile industry
anymore.’ So I said, ‘I’m sure I can figure it out.’ And without giving it
enough thought I just jumped in and did it.”
If Anderson had taken the time to think about it, she might
not have jumped into the textile business — one she knew little about, and an
industry that shut down hundreds of plants around the country since the late
After receiving a $100,000 loan from the Fosston Economic
Development Authority and a price break from the city on land, Anderson
mortgaged her home, invested her retirement fund and took the plunge.
“It has been a huge learning curve,” she said. “I’m a
knitter, so I knew what I wanted at the end result, but I had no idea the
process it went through to get it to the end.”
The mill is proving a worthy competitor to mills in Asia,
and Anderson expects to add a second shift soon, doubling the mill’s production.
“I can’t compete with the wages they pay their employees,
but because of their added on shipping costs I can come pretty close, and I can
hit their quality or better,” Anderson said.
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