A late night television advertisement, along with a couple of creative friends, turned Teresa Simons’ farm (located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada near Placerville, California) into an adoption agency. Teresa now puts her sheep up for adoption for a monthly-or annual-fee.
“Nancy, Cheryl, and I were watching a movie and hand spinning one night,” Teresa recounts, “When the movie ended with one of those ads that said ‘You too can save a starving child in South America for only $12 a month’ came on.”
Teresa keeps mostly Cotswolds, along with her llama, Sierra.
“Then Cheryl says, ‘It’s too bad you can’t adopt a sheep, too.’
“I was surprised, but she said, ‘Sure, you know-for city people!’
“Then Nancy got excited and said, ‘You could write them letters and send them photos!’
“So the three of us sort of came up with the idea.”
The idea is this:
- For $120 per year or $12 per month you can “adopt” one of Teresa’s 37 sheep.
- For your money you don’t get a sheep: Teresa keeps it and takes care of it.
- But you do get a fleece, postage paid, and a couple of letters and pictures sent to you via e-mail.
Does that sound improbable? The proof that it works is that most of Teresa’s sheep are “adopted” and she has no fleeces available for sale.
“I keep some back for myself and I also keep some back in case one of the adopted ones gets sick or something tragic happens,” she explained. “Right now we have a bear stalking the pen. I reserve the right to substitute a fleece if necessary.”
Spindler’s List: Ongoing Demand For “Sheep Adoptions”
Teresa’s adoption project, which has been in existence for four years, relies on her website and eBay store for promotion.
One of the people who discovered Teresa’s adoption project website is Ivy, a New York City computer programmer. Ivy has known Teresa for three years and currently has two sheep adopted. She had adopted a third, a sheep named McCoy, but he has been retired due to age. Teresa has told Ivy she may be able to purchase McCoy’s fleece next year depending on its condition and his health.
eresa names her sheep after Star Trek characters. Seen here: McCoy, a ‘retiree’ and Della.
“I was reading this book called the Knitting Goddess and the author was talking about hand spinning,” said Ivy, who has been knitting since she was 12 years old. “I always thought that spinning involved a lot of giant wheels all over the place but the author showed me that you could do it with this tiny little thing.”
When she learned that she could make her own yarn Ivy went to her computer and found an Internet discussion group called Spindler’s List. There she learned about spinning with a drop spindle.
“I learned a lot on-line but there was a wonderful woman there in the mailing group who was from New Jersey and she came into the city and met me at the library on 42nd Street and she showed me how to spin,” Ivy said.
On the Spindler’s List Ivy also learned about the idea of adopting a sheep. The group was aware of two shepherds putting sheep up for adoption.
“With the other lady you only got about a pound of fleece but with Teresa you got a whole fleece,” Ivy said. “That was pretty exciting.”
Why It Sells
Both Teresa and Ivy know that Ivy can find a perfectly good fleece for hand spinning for less than $120. That, they both say, is not the point.
Before Ivy discovered Teresa she bought a few pounds of wool from a shepherd in Pennsylvania. She didn’t know anything about the sheep it came from. In fact, she says, she didn’t know which sheep it came from.
“It was such a dramatic shift to go from knowing wool comes from a sheep to knowing this wool comes from that sheep,” Ivy said. “It’s an amazing thing.”
Ivy is not unique in having those thoughts. Teresa says that one of her customers has adopted two sheep for herself and her handspinning needs. She has also adopted sheep for her grandchildren. The goal of the grandmother is to give her grandchildren some sense of what goes on down on the farm. For the children Teresa writes on behalf of her sheep Scotty II. All her sheep are named after Star Trek characters, she notes.
“The letter to the children might read
‘Hi sister, Hi brother; how are you?’ Teresa says-on behalf of Scotty II-’As you can see from my photo my wool is getting very curly and starting to grow. There has been some really interesting weather out here in California. All of a sudden we got some cold weather and lots of rain. We had five inches of rain in two weeks. That made for a muddy mess, so Teresa has been cleaning the barn. This week it’s been sunny, which gives us a chance to dry out and I have a nice dry barn and my nice wool coat to keep me warm.’”
Teresa’s customers-or “adoptive parents,” as she calls them-develop a relationship with the sheep: The information Ivy receives is more sophisticated than what the children get. And this time Ivy is clear about who she’s communicating with. Knowing what she knows about the sheep that give her wool to spin has enriched Ivy’s life. She’s learned how the sheep sleep, what their daily lives are like, and what each sheep’s personality is.
“Teresa has been great about answering questions and telling me what is going on,” she said.
Customers Become Apostles
Her newfound knowledge has made Ivy not only a dedicated customer for Teresa Simons, but also a spokeswoman for rural America in the heart of Manhattan.
“There’s a group that hangs out over at Grand Central Station and they have this campaign they are doing where they are trying to get people to not wear wool products because their idea is that shearing wool is cruelty to sheep,” she said. “Knowing how Theresa takes care of her sheep this last couple of years I told those people they were wrong. Teresa’s sheep are happy and they are playing and they are living a good life.”
Teresa’s sheep pay their way.
Teresa Simons’ approach to shepherding is unconventional but not unique. Most of the members of her spinning and weaving guild, who are shepherds, do not believe in butchering lambs. Teresa says that her sheep are like pets-like the family dog-and that butchering them would be just like butchering a beloved family pet. As a result of her approach she does not breed every year and she will not sell lambs to someone who intends to raise them for slaughter. “When one of my sheep die from old age or disease it’s very hard on me,” she says. Teresa does not overemphasize this on her website.
She does emphasize that most of her sheep are Cotswolds and by adopting them people will contribute to preserving the breed. She also emphasizes that if you are not a hand spinner she will work with Yolo Woolen Mill, a California Wool processor, to have either roving or yarn made from your adopted sheep’s fleece. “That,” she says, “costs extra.”
Teresa Simons’ unorthodox sheep management may have a particular appeal to some urban people. This is not to say however, that more conventional approaches to sheep husbandry may not also have a similar appeal. In the meantime Teresa’s unconventional thinking, along with help from her friends, has created an income for her to support her sheep.
“I’ve sold all my fleeces and the sheep are finally supporting themselves,” she said.
Her idea has also made only a small dent in the growing needs of urban people who want to make a meaningful connection with the food and farm products that sustain them.
“When I had just adopted T’pring I bought a basket from Teresa and she lined it with unwashed T’pring locks,” Ivy said. “It was raw wool and I could pick it up and smell what T’pring smells like. That was very exciting!”
It’s hard to buy good honest “sheep smell” in Mid-Town Manhattan’s sophisticated shops.
Teresa Simons’ website is www.mountain-shadow-ranch.com and her eBay store is at: www.stores.ebay.com/mountainshadowranch?refid=store ^