Cheri Miller, owner of local farmers market vendor Harvest Home, developed her love for sheep in England and Ireland, where her late husband, then a teacher at Baylor, would often take students on trips. In the mid-90s, he bought her two ewes, and from them she's grown her herd to about 40 sheep.
All of the wool for the hand-woven or knitted products Miller sells at the market comes from her own sheep. They produce about 200-300 pounds of wool a year, which she sends to a mill in Michigan to be processed, she said.
"I think people need to be reminded farmers don't just grow foods," said Miller, who has been a vendor at the Main Street Farmers Market for several years and started coming to the Signal Mountain Farmers Market in February. "A lot of our natural fibers come from farmers."
She said she likes wool because it's environmentally sustainable, easy to care for and processed without any harsh chemicals. Aside from the pinks and blues she uses, most of the colors are natural, she said.
Miller's sheep are a cross between finnsheep, a smaller breed of sheep which is known for its fine wool and bred for color; and Suffolk sheep, known for their meat. The cross-breeds have fine wool, but unlike pure finnsheep, they produce good meat as well, Miller said. Her herd is given free range on her six pastures in Rising Fawn, Ga.
"I feed them the best diet I can," she said.
That means local hays and alfalfa pellets formulated for sheep with the nutrients they need, which they're not able to get in this area through foraging alone, and everything is free of antibiotics and growth hormones, she added.
In addition to woolen winter accessories such as hand-knitted scarves, hats, ear warmers and regular and fingerless mittens, she also carries anytime products such as felted oven mitts, felted soaps great for exfoliating the skin, woolen mattress pads and crib liners, and — among her most popular offerings — felted dryer balls.
"I can't make enough of them," she said of her dryer balls, which serve as reusable dryer sheet replacements when sprinkled with a few drops of essential oil or fabric softener and popped into the dryer with a load of clothes.
Miller also offers cuts of aged lamb, lamb bones to spoil your pooch, and jams and jellies in a variety of flavors. Her unique bird wreaths made from wool are meant to attract birds with material which they take to build their nests, she said.
Visit the Harvest Home booth at the Signal Mountain Farmers Market, 1210 Taft Highway, Thursdays from 4-5:30 p.m.; or at the Main Street Farmers Market, 325 E. Main St., Wednesdays from 4-5 p.m.