A new generation of farmers is challenging our idea of what it means to work in agriculture in the Central Valley. Two special Valley Edition reports examine who these modern farmers are, and how they're connecting with the burgeoning, nationwide interest in boutique culture.
In this audio postcard, 30-year-old Allen Mesick introduces us to Eureka Mohair Farm in Tollhouse, where he and his partner Randy Shumaker raise Angora goats for mohair.
In the summer, about 75 goats with soft, curly hair graze on the farm in the foothills.
Often times when we do displays at fairs, they say, ‘are they sheep?’ And we say, ‘no, they’re Angora goats.’ And they say, ‘oh, that’s where Angora comes from.’ ‘No, actually, Angora, in terms of wool, comes from the Angora rabbit, and it’s really soft. Mohair comes from the Angora goat.
Mesick’s goal is to raise goats that produce fine Mohair fleece. The softer the hair, the more valuable it is, he says.
In the 60s and 70s, mohair had its peak commercially. There’s an Elton John song, ‘Benny and the Jets,’ and one of the lyrics is, ‘mohair suit.’ At that time, mohair was trendy, beautiful and relatively inexpensive, but feed cost, gas and synthetic fibers have thus replaced these natural fibers. To find mohair suit at Macy’s, for example, might be rather difficult today… I wish everyone wore mohair because we’d all have a better business.
Mesick primarily sells his mohair on Etsy.com. He says customers around the world purchase his naturally colored mohair to spin it into yarn, or make doll hair. Clients, he says, like feeling a connection to the farm and animals.
People want to have a connection with where their food is coming from, and I think the same applies to what people are wearing. They want to know where it came from. They want to have a connection to the animal, with the farmer, the producer, and Etsy, small online shops, allow us to reach out and get these products to people who care about that. Sure, they’re paying more for it, but in the end, they’re really satisfied and they feel great about what they’re wearing and using.
Mesick says he considers himself a modern farmer. He says the farmers likely don’t accept him as a farmer, and city residents likely don’t consider him an urban dweller. As a modern farmer, he says, he’s used the Internet to connect with his own niche community.
I guess that’s another way of being modern. It’s finding something that’s rare, something that’s unique, and selling it and then making money off of it, or trying to make money off of it. I’m certainly not rich - by any means. But am I happy? Absolutely. Am I making a little money? Absolutely. Am I sharing my life with the animals that are a big part of who I am? Certainly.