Wellspring Woolens in all actuality began at the 1997 Minnesota State Fair, although we were & would continue to be clueless as to what had occurred that day. I thought it was just another year with a trip to the state fair. Neither Jon nor I had any idea it would so totally change our life. That on one momentous occasion, life would never be the same & our path would be forever altered.
This is not a story of ‘let’s start a business doing …’, when you write a solid business plan including all the pieces of a well thought out enterprise. Take into account the market, any & all variables, etc… A thoughtful, well researched Plan. Apparently that’s not how we roll, since this is a story of ‘Who Knew One Day Could Totally … ?!’.
I am sitting here, in our kitchen at the farm, years later writing this because we went to the Minnesota State Fair in 1997. As usual, we went to the sheep building to check it out. After checking out most of it, Jon & I made a right hand turn into what would be the moment of no going back, because I saw The Someone who would change the course of our lives forever. In a corner pen & not particularly happy, there stood this incredible ram with big horns & gorgeous wool. I was smitten. Then came the moment that changed everything, because I made a beeline for him. Never in front of anything like him before, I am talking to him & then petting him & miracles upon miracles, he is calming down. I had an incredible feeling. I am undone with this connection to this incredible being. Our lives were now indeed, going to be forever changed, because just when I am starting to write down ‘Misty Meadow Icelandics, Tom & Judy McDowell’ from the sign above him, Tom & Judy, with their then two small children in tow, were on the bleachers coming towards us & Ragnar (The Someone). And as life will happen we hit it off. Everything is lining up, but all are clueless as to what has just begun.
At that time, Jon & I were living in St. Peter, which is a couple of hours south of the fair. We would pretty much go every year because it was the two of us, our cats & dogs with no real tie downs at home. I am teaching knitting, as well as knitting quite a bit on my own, spinning wool, gardening, canning & waiting for children. Jon is an environmental engineer who designs water & wastewater treatment plants. He still is, although now, he is also Farmer Jon mornings & evenings.
So things are humming along pretty well. We visit Tom & Judy’s farm that winter & they come to down to St. Peter. We’re becoming friends. And then the following spring of 1998, on March 28th at 5:34 pm (I know this, because I still have the clock that flipped the numbers down), we were hit by The Tornado. We were really hit. Turned out we were living in tornado alley. We were not hurt. The house stood, although while we were in the basement, it sounded like it had exploded.
When the tv went off, Jon had taken our three dogs down to the basement. Like an idiot, I picked up our two big boy cats at once, where Izaak immediately attacked Monroe & wiggled out of my arms. I gave Monroe to Jon, who was back at the top of the stairs & then went to get Izaak using the ‘magic word’ to pull him out from behind the sofa. With Izaak in my arms, we got to the kitchen just in time to see through the corner windows, this unbelievably blacker than black, evil fury of a tornado. It had an indescribably horrible energy. I couldn’t believe god could make anything that totally terrifying. It was traumatic. By now, Jon is back at the top of the stairs & is screaming for me. He grabs me holding Izaak, closes the door & on our third step down, the windows blew. Exploded.
When the tornado hit that day in March, Jon was just starting to design the Saint Peter Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was a pretty big deal. It was one of the first facilities in the United States utilizing advanced European wastewater treatment technology. So, Jon had to put his time & energy into his commitment. The house became primarily my project. Serendipitously, we had spent the evening before the tornado meeting & getting to know a really nice guy, who was a contractor. Kevin* stopped everything for us & came to our aid. I don’t know what we would have done without him. Not all our subs were great, to say the least, but having Kevin literally saved us. An unbelievable blessing after the horror of the tornado.
With Jon working so hard on his project & me dealing with putting a house back together that had been a ‘this’ll do’ the evening we saw & put the offer in, weekends were our time together. The last thing I wanted to do was spend the weekend ‘home’. I just wanted breaks away from my ‘project’. So Jon would get me ‘out of dodge’ on the weekends & that is how we came to be at Tom & Judy’s farm a couple of months after the tornado. To see them & their lambs. Yeah. Poor Jon.
There was a lamb. An incredibly special lamb. An offspring of Ragnar’s. Of course! I saw him – named him – done. Tom called on a Friday night a month or so after our visit to the farm. He didn’t know what was going to happen, but a guy from the East coast was flying into Minnesota for a family reunion & was interested in ‘I21’. I said, “Do you mean Ivan?”. There was silence on the phone as Tom realized I had named him. Crazy, but, yes, in my heart he was mine. Not that I ever ‘own’ anyone. They’re mine, I’m theirs, we’re connected.
After a fairly long ‘discussion’ of which I’m pretty sure I did most of the talking, because by now I’ve got to somehow ‘get’ Ivan. The thought of ‘not’ was unthinkable. Here we are in the process of tornado recovery, we cannot move at this point in time & I have not a clue what to do with Ivan. But, Tom does! We’ve been to their farm & he actually knows what he’s doing. Bless him, Tom agrees to board Ivan! “Thank you, thank you, Tom! OK now, I’m ‘throwing our hat over the fence!”. And I did. Way over, since now I’ve committed our future to living on a farm. Bless Jon!
After pretty much wrapping things up, our conversation ends with me saying,
“Oh, by the way, can I have Inger?”.
“Who’s Inger??”, says Tom, rather incredulously.
And that, dear friends, is the beginning of the story of Wellspring Woolens.
That night in 1998, our flock began with two Icelandic lambs & would at one point be over fifty.
Much will happen while endeavoring to build our “Dream No Small Dream”.
Totally from scratch, we set out to build our farm & life on an alfalfa field.
We’re still building in a very real sense, while always trying to be good shepherds & stewards.
Ivan would grow to become an incredibly powerful Icelandic ram that everyone was in awe of.
He also would become my mentor & the embodiment of everything we have grown to become.
I thank you for reading this & hope you will return for further stories of our journey.
(Kevin Boertje of Mainstream Cabinets, Craftsman Extraordinaire & a Good Friend!)