What started from morning reflections by a pond is now a farm with 25 ewes, creating wool products and a home for local knitters.
Story and photos by Rick Stedman
For Alice Mattson, living and working on Alice’s Reflection Farm in Eatonville has been a labor of love. She and husband Virgil purchased the property in 1982, and eventually turned it into a successful sheep farm.
Alice and Virgil’s family bought this 18-acre pastoral setting in 1962. The couple bought their own section 20 years later.
“After my husband and I bought a section of the farm, we would spend weekends up here in our camper,” Alice says. “We’d sit by the pond in the mornings with our coffee and enjoy the reflection off the water. We would also reflect about what we wanted to do in the future. Alice’s Reflection Farm evolved from those initial reflections.”
Alice started raising a couple of yearling ewes as backyard pets. She began spinning wool in 1989, and hand spinning fleeces in 1995.
In the 1990s, a neighborly affair of sorts blossomed when Alice acquired new neighbors—the Haydens and Homans—who also shared an interest in sheep. “Sharon Hayden later started a spinning mill, and we eventually began attending trade shows together,” Alice says. Sharon’s husband, Mark, and their two daughters also worked with the sheep and wool. “Sharon’s sister Mary Homan still lives here with her husband, Bob, who trains border collies for sheepherding,” Alice says.
Cathy and Bill Caloren bought the Hayden farm five years ago, and the sheep connection continues. “This is like heaven living here!” says Cathy, a veterinarian technician. “Alice is like our mom, best friend, and grandma all rolled into one.”
In addition to running the farm, Alice expanded her offerings in 2003 when she opened a store on the property and began selling wool-related products. She offers supplies ranging from fresh fleeces to spinning wheels, yarn, knitting needles, along with patterns and how-to books. Visitors can buy sweaters, vests, hats, and other hand-knitted garments.
Gathering Place for Locals
Today, Alice’s Reflection Farm is a popular meeting place for local spinners, and a source for buying spinning and knitting supplies and equipment. In addition, the Romeldale sheep raised on the farm are a dual-purpose breed used for their quality meat and fine soft wool, with a high yield and uniform fleece. Alice says the Livestock Conservancy classifies Romeldales as a rare breed. “Both registered purebred Romeldale sheep and lambs are sold for showing and breeding, while unregistered Romeldales are sold for pets and meat,” Alice says. Some locals have been buying meat from Alice’s Reflection Farm for more than 20 years.
Alice also sells freshly shorn fleeces that are clean and ready for spinning. For non spinners, there is yarn that has been hand spun or commercially spun. “I do a lot of knitting myself,” Alice says. “So I also sell completed garments such as hats, scarves, sweaters, socks, and shawls.”
Going to the dogs
A farm wouldn’t be a farm without a dog or two. At Alice’s Reflection Farm, Rayni and Sam are the keepers of the flock. Livestock guardian dogs were first mentioned in history books more than 2,000 years ago, according to Alice. “They lived and protected nomadic flocks of sheep as well as the shepherd and his family in middle and southern Europe,” says Alice.
The dogs are wary of strangers and are bred to take responsibility of the flock and make decisions in the absence of the master. The dogs take their job seriously despite the true threat of predators such as wolves or bears.
To help her dogs do their job more efficiently, Alice cut holes in the cross fencing to allow them to access any of the fields and the yard. Rayni and Sam have free rein with their guard duties, which include protecting 25 ewes, two rams and the 35 lambs they
produced this year.
Rayni, the senior citizen of the duo, is 6-years-old, while her counterpart Sam is just a 1-and-1/2. “Sam drives everyone crazy with his energy and pranks,” says Alice.
Reaping What She’s Sewn
At 82 years young, Alice has no intention of expanding the business. In recent years, she has cut back on attending trade shows and the number of sheep maintained on the farm. Alice takes great pride in a job well done.
“I get to meet many people and many of them have become dear friends over the years,” she says. “It gives me a chance to travel and meet those of similar interests all over the country. In fact, I’d want to be doing this whether or not I had a business, for the business is just an outlet for some of the finished products.”