#107 *Knit local. Rep from* with Mary Jeanne Packer of Battenkill Fibers

We should go back to 1950-something and talk about Mary Jeanne Packer as a little girl. She's a firm believer in who you are and what you’re doing at the young age of 5, can sometimes give clues about the path you'll be for the rest of your life. 

In today’s episode of Power Purls Podcast, I chat with Mary Jeanne about her early years of determination and self-sufficiency and what eventually led her down the path she’s on today. Whether teaching herself how to knit, how to start a business or earning a degree in engineering, Mary Jeanne demonstrates passion for craft, people, and community in every way.  

As a young mother, working as a consultant, traveling from place to place, and filling the in-between with family, knitting took a backseat for a number of years. After 9/11, though, she had to think about what it meant to be in an airplane that day … and she needed comfort. 

"Some people call a lost relative or find a church … well, I went to a yarn store and became totally enthralled and gained a lot of solace from my knitting."

– Mary Jeanne Packer 

The floodgates opened and our intrepid entrepreneur from the outset went on to open a yarn store in Watkins Glen, NY to fill a need. From there, after questions about “locally sourced yarns” from the tourist customers, she eyed the gap between the farmer’s supply chain and knitter’s desires and said, “I can do that.” 

People want to connect to the local farm

Mary Jeanne shares a behind-the-scenes look at the ins and outs of daily life at the mill, the different types of connections and customers they have, and how much education, awareness, and growth the industry has seen over the last ten years. From animal breeds and yarn twists to farms and guided tours and everything in between, Mary Jeanne keeps customer service, genuineness, and a zeal for local attention at the center of her work.  

What you'll learn in this episode

  • What it's like to start a local yarn shop
  • Three types of customers at the Mill
  • How indie designers can start their own yarn line
  • The ethical and sustainable requirements for local yarns and fibers
  • Co-founding the Hudson Valley Textile Project
  • Her unique retreats and tours 

"It’s not always easy and its not always cheap. The farmers who are managing smaller flocks in very ethical and compassionate ways need to be compensated for that. The price of yarn that comes from a mill like ours, where the farmers are paid a fair price for the wool and the employees are paid a living wage, immediately makes the resulting product more expensive than if it had come from a mass-produced setting.”

– Mary Jeanne Packer 

Links and resources mentioned in the episode:

More about Mary Jeanne

Mary Jeanne Packer is the president of Battenkill Fibers Carding and Spinning Mill, a fiber processing mill located in Greenwich, NY. Ms. Packer founded the mill in 2009 to provide value-added, custom carding and spinning services for fiber farms and others; and to manufacture yarn and fiber products for wholesale and retail markets. The mill produces 100-150 lbs of artisan quality natural-colored and dyed semi-worsted yarn daily using refurbished traditional milling machinery. Battenkill Fibers brought a dozen new full time and part time jobs to rural Washington County, NY; and in 2015 was named the Washington County Small Business of the Year. 

Ms. Packer is also one of the founders and president of the farmer/producer-owned Southern Adirondack Fiber Producers Cooperative that hosted its 6th annual wool pool for the region’s sheep farmers in June 2016. The Coop offers annual fleece quality management workshops for farmers and 4-day Fiber Tours and Retreats for knitters and other fiber artists. Ms. Packer is secretary of the Empire Sheep Producers Association. In addition to her fiber interests, Ms. Packer is the founding partner in GWC, Inc., an integrated marketing communications firm that has served natural resources, agricultural, and experiential tourism industries and organizations across the US since 1995. 

Follow

On the Web: http://www.battenkillfibers.com

On Instagram: @mjpacker

Subscribe on iTunes: PowerPurlsPodcast.com/iTunes

Photos courtesy of Mary Jeanne Packer and Gale Zucker 

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