Outside of my role on SBC’s Climate and Energy team, I am also a small business owner and actively involved in the fiber arts community of the Sierra Nevada, designing knitting patterns and working with locally produced yarn. Over the years my two worlds – climate planning and knitting – have become increasingly intertwined, thanks to a concept called FIbershed. You may be wondering what climate action has to do with knitting, and that’s why I’d like to tell you more about Fibershed and how my knitwear designs and hand-knit garments are supporting the carbon-sequestration cycle in the Sierra Nevada!
What is Fibershed?
In 2010, a woman named Rebecca Burgess embarked on a mission to develop and wear a prototype wardrobe whose dyes, fibers, and labor were sourced within 150 miles of the project’s headquarters. The project grew from Rebecca’s personal challenge to reduce her carbon and ecological footprint and inspire others to do the same. She coined the word “fibershed,” a combination of the word “fiber” and “watershed,” during this project to describe a geographic region which all of the resources to make an article of clothing come from. Within a few months, the project transformed into a movement as the word fibershed and working concept resonated with scientists, makers, and farmers alike. Burgess founded a non-profit, aptly named Fibershed, to address and educate the public on the environmental, climate, economic, and social benefits of decentralizing the textile supply chain.
Today, Fibershed promotes fiber systems that reduce atmospheric carbon while promoting environmental stewardship, social equity, and economic sustainability. They engage with small fiber producers and designers to not only build a regenerative textile economy, but provide carbon-cycle and climate change education. Their mission is to create and support local markets for climate-beneficial textiles and increase carbon sequestration in fiber-producing agricultural systems.
Fibershed in the Sierra Nevada:
Here in the Sierra Nevada, the economies of most communities are economically and culturally tied to natural resources industries, such as forestry, agriculture, and tourism. A portion of the agricultural systems in the region include fiber producers and the ranching of sheep and alpacas for their wool. According to California’s 4th Climate Assessment Sierra Nevada report, land management decisions and commitments in these industries play important roles in mitigating GHG emissions and in preparing landscapes and communities for those climate change impacts. Land stewardship can increase the capacity of Sierra Nevada landscapes and communities to adapt to climate change, as well as contribute to the sequestration of carbon and reduction of energy footprints.
Climate change adaptation in meadow ecosystems and in forested regions, such as the Sierra Nevada, can involve certain carbon-sequestering actions, such as managing livestock grazing to reduce soil compaction, permit natural restoration of stream banks, and improve forest management. The “soil-to-soil” cycle that Fibershed is founded on demonstrates how a thriving market for locally grown and produced textiles can support carbon-sequestering agriculture, all while increasing the ability for ecosystems and communities to adapt to climate change.
Small businesses make the Sierra Fibershed (and subsequent carbon-sequestering agriculture) possible.
Here in the Sierra Nevada regional Fibershed community, there is an alpaca farm in Grass Valley called Sierra Rose Alpacas that is a fiber producer and member of Fibershed. Their operations align with the entire soil-to-soil cycle, but let’s take a closer look at the part of the cycle titled “Designers & Makers” – that’s where I come in. Once Sierra Rose Alpacas have had their alpaca fiber spun into yarn, and then hand-dyed with natural dyes from their garden, I knit their yarn into 100% alpaca garments, which in turn they sell in their farm boutique. They also sell their yarn, both naturally dyed and undyed, and I have created several designs and published knitting patterns for people to create their own hand-knit, fibershed garments utilizing their alpaca yarn.
Another key aspect of supporting a local fibershed is to foster commerce between fiber artists and yarn makers, and this is exemplified by the local yarn store. Here in the Sierra Nevada, we have many yarn stores, some of which are highlighted on the upcoming Sierra Nevada Yarn Crawl, which takes place September 11-13th. This annual event is designed to celebrate what the regional yarn community has to offer and showcase it to a wide audience, both online and in person.
During this year’s Sierra Nevada Yarn Crawl, I will be joining Heathered Yarn Co., local to me in Grass Valley, to share samples of my designs and knitwear, many of which are inspired by the colors and textures of the Sierra Nevada. This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how fiber-producers, yarn makers, and knitwear designers are an important part of the carbon-sequestration cycle, and showing off how beautiful climate-mitigating yarn can be. Personally, it is a meaningful moment for me as someone who works in the climate action field to see climate-beneficial fibers and textiles reaching the mainstream market. As each Fibershed community manages their resources to create permanent and more widely-used systems of production and carbon enhancing practices, they will become the new standard.
Core to Sierra Business Council’s mission is our commitment to being a triple bottom line organization so it’s only natural that we would lead an effort to help small businesses adopt these principles. A triple bottom line business considers more than just economic results or profit. They also value their impact on society and the environment. We often refer to these businesses as “sustainable” or “green” and research shows that they typically deliver superior customer service, score higher in job satisfaction, and perform better financially.
As you know, California witnessed its worst wildfire season on record in 2020. Over 4 million acres burned, costing us more than 10,000 homes and buildings and at least 33 lives (not to mention the long-term negative health impacts of the dense smoke experienced across the state). Wildfire is a natural part of California’s landscape, but today’s wildfires are out of balance due to a century of fire suppression and misguided forest management. As climate change accelerates the risk of extreme wildfire, 2020 could be the start of our new normal. In 2021, we have an opportunity to keep that from happening. If we take action now, we can help protect our communities and restore the health of our forests.
Communities in the Sierra Nevada have weathered many storms over the years, most recently the local impacts of climate change, catastrophic wildfire, drought and reduced snowpack, Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events, wide-sweeping homeowner insurance policy cancellations, closing businesses, and a devastating global pandemic.
In October of 2018, Sierra Business Council was awarded the role of program administrator for the Martis Fund’s Homebuyer Down Payment Assistance Program (DPAP). This program provides down payment assistance for median income Tahoe/Truckee locals hoping to purchase a home in the region.
Have you heard of Time of Use rates before? Did you know you could be saving money on your energy bill just by utilizing them? Let’s back up. The state of California has set the goal of 100 percent use of zero-carbon electricity by 2045, which builds on the previous work the state has done to become more energy efficient and manage energy use.