Going “back to the basics” can have a different definition for some. For Sylvie Racette, the owner of the Micro ferme Retour aux sources in Saint-Anicet, it refers to self-sufficiency.
Racette explains that she and her husband had already been adopting more self-sufficient practices before launching themselves into farming. The couple now own around 15 sheep and half a dozen goats to support their business. “We process the goats’ milk into soap, shampoo, and hand balms without artificial fragrances or dyes,” says Racette. “We are also starting to consider making products from sheep milk as well to profit from all aspects of raising sheep,” she adds, noting this would mean they would only need to keep the sheep on the farm.
Aside from the line of natural products, Racette also produces items such as storage baskets, dryer balls, and artisanal honey. “We will eventually be releasing our own homemade dyes,” she says. Made from flowers and plants sourced directly from the farm’s garden, Racette says she is hoping for a good crop this summer.
An underdeveloped market
Racette explains that she and her husband are working with the circular economy in terms of their production. They simply don’t have the production at the moment to consider a boutique, so they are focusing on creating smaller markets. “We have breeds that produce wool that is specific to textiles, such as Rambouillet, Filandreux, and Bluefaced Leicester,” she says, while noting there are more than 100 different breeds of sheep and that each kind produces wool with different characteristics.
Despite her passion for textiles, Racette says she is not interested in owning a large flock. “The wool business is not profitable enough,” she explains. “In fact, the main obstacle for those who want to start a wool business in Quebec is the processing,” she says. “We sell our wool in skeins and as fleece,” she adds. “We work with small artisanal spinning mills because they are the only ones who will accept lower volumes of wool, and these mills are all located outside the province,” she says, which increases transportation costs. Racette says the wait time for these companies can also be between 30 and 32 weeks.
Even though the market is not especially profitable, Racette stresses that it deserves to be developed. She and her husband are dedicated to helping other sheep producers find other uses for wool that is not especially valuable for textiles. “We are still very much in the business of educating and raising awareness about wool processing in Quebec. We provide conferences, demonstrations, and workshops at home, which contributes to our business,” she says.
Sponsor a sheep
In order to finance the care and feeding of their flock, the farm now is now offering individuals the chance to sponsor one of their sheep. The process includes different levels of sponsorship, ranging from $80 to $300. “The person receives a sponsorship certificate for one year and, depending on the package they select, will receive discounts, gifts, or even a full fleece,” Racette says. The sponsorship also includes a visit to the farm for a visit with the sponsored animal.
“We post the sheep around June, and people look forward to it,” she says, noting it usually takes just three or four days for all the animals to find sponsors.
More information on the Micro ferme Retour aux sources and the sheep sponsorship program is available online at: microfermeretourauxsources.ca.