A Good Local Yarn Goes High Tech

Karen Kauth founded Karberry Farm 13 years ago when she moved from the city rush to the bucolic countryside.

Karen Kauth founded Karberry Farm 13 years ago when she moved from the city rush to the bucolic countryside. Kauth, who was born and raised in Vanier, Ottawa, had found a magnificent red-brick house with a big property near Mountain, Ont. She had lived in an apartment for several years, but the moment she got out of the city she bought horses to mow her lawn.

I love animals, and so it was a natural progression for me to get sheep,” she says.

Kauth still sells farm eggs and some meat but Karberry Farm is primarily raising sheep for their wool and breeding stock. She had learned to knit on maternity leave and had learned to spin wool on a spinning wheel she bought from a nearby llama farm. As she tried out various wools from different breeds of sheep she fell in love with Shetlands and bought her first two ewes in January 2012.

Today, Karberry Farm is part of the North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association and her small flock of 36 sheep — some dark, some light brown, and others in every shade in between — the majority are purebred registered Shetlands.

As her flock of sheep grew, she sent her wool to a mill. But mills wanted a minimum quantity and Shetlands have a low yield. Ten pounds in one go? That would take years. She determined she could sell some hand-spun wool, but that she had to price it accordingly.

I realized that there’s a lot of work in hand spinning,” says Kauth. “It takes time to spin. There are many steps from getting this fluffy stuff to turning it into something that’s usable, never mind marketable.”

In 2014, Kauth didn’t have any great expectations for her first year at the Kemptville Farmers’ Market. She just wanted to cover the costs and let people see her hard-won product. Then she decided to hand dye wool she was getting from a Canadian wholesaler, and people really started to pay attention.

Lily the sheep

Karberry Farm started bringing its wares to fibre festivals, like the Leeds and Grenville Fibre Extravaganza, and various Christmas and farmers’ markets. And it quickly became clear to Kauth that there was an untapped market for quality hand-spun, hand-dyed wool for making fleece, yarn and knit. But, in February 2020, things changed dramatically. Kauth and her partner had just completed the popular Chesterville Spin-In and were preparing for a big market in Toronto. When stay-at-home orders and the lockdown put an end to all that, and Kauth wondered what to do and decided to be proactive.

The thing about being a small business owner,” she says, “is that you wear a lot of hats. But sometimes it helps to have someone there to make sure I filled out the paperwork correctly. And CFDC helped me out with that.”

CFDC helped stabilize her business during lockdown and now Kauth knows CFDC has the programs and advice to help businesses reach their potential, whether they are a year old or a decade old.

CFDC also alerted her to the Technology Implementation Program (TIP), which is funded by Rural Economic Development Program (RED). CFDC’s TIP advisors helped her strategize the next moves for her website and transform her informational landing page into a functional e-commerce site. The web team behind TIP helped her determine what she wanted out of her website, what it would offer to customers and how she could maintain her sales. She was also directed toward search engine optimization and market research to bring more traffic to her site.

I knew I needed a better website than the one I had,” she says, “but that this was beyond my area of expertise. Give me some wool and I can do whatever but this… this is best left to professionals.”

Now her website sells various yarns and wools, as well as socks, knit sweaters, knitting bags, mugs, and other accessories. “It’s difficult sometimes to market something that is a very tactile medium. It can be visual but shopping online means you’re taking away that essential tactile part: Is this yarn soft? How does it drape? What does it do when it’s knit up?” Kauth is sure she’ll work with CFDC again if she decides to expand Karberry Farm or start a side business. With the Regional Relief & Recovery Fund to help Karberry Farm manage through the shutdowns, Kauth opened a little studio where people can make an appointment to come by and shop. She hopes this and the online shop will help her business reach its customers.

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