Do you know how much wool sheep produce? Wanatha Garner does.

Garner is the owner of Long Cove Farm on Vinalhaven, and this question was the impetus for the creation of Long Cove Wool, yarn made from the wool of her sheep and sold at Island Home, a new fiber arts shop on Vinalhaven.

Among other livestock, Garner keeps a herd of 68 merino sheep at Long Cove Farm, though she would like to cull the herd down to 40 or 50.

According to Garner, this breed produces a “tremendous amount of wool, 15 pounds from one sheep. In most cases in the United States, sheep are shorn and the wool is thrown away because you have to have someplace to process it,” says Garner, and the wool processing industry is very small.

“I don’t like to feel the wool is being wasted,” she said, which is what led Garner to send her wool for processing. Garner first sent her wool to a Vermont spinnery two years ago. “This is the benefit of small mills,” said Garner. “You take [the wool processing industry] that was pretty much dead and it now has a new lease on life.”

After the sheep are shorn, Garner stores their wool in big plastic garbage bags upstairs in her barn until it is time to send it to the spinnery. This year the wool was spun at Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, Vermont.

Because these sheep produce a lot of lanolin, the spinnery had to wash the wool extra well.  The sheep also wear coats to keep vegetable matter, such as hay, out of their wool as it is very difficult to remove during processing.

Being an avid knitter, Garner kept that first year’s yarn for herself. This year she decided to go commercial and sell the yarn. “It was fortuitous that Angie (Olson, owner of Island Home) opened her store this year,” said Garner.

Long Cove Wool made its debut at Island Home in late July, complete with a visit to the shop by Skunk, a black lamb from Garner’s herd.

Long Cove Wool comes in three natural colors: Vinalhaven Blond, Granite and Kelp Brown. At this level, says Garner, there is no need to dye the wool. “Maybe in the future, if I want more sheep, I will have some dyed,” she said. However, Olson recently attended a workshop where she learned how to indigo dye the wool herself, which may open the door to small batches of locally dyed wool.

For now it is only available at Island Home, though interested parties can purchase it long-distance by emailing Olson at

Expanding the market will depend on how well the wool sells, and so far it has been selling very well. “I’m constantly restocking,” said Olson. “People have been really excited about it. I have had requests to ship it out and it has gone out as gifts all over the place.”

Olson has sold about one third of her stock in the first 20 days of carrying Long Cove Wool. In fact, having a local fiber product was one of the deciding factors for Olson in opening her shop. “It is one of the things that really made my business plan stand out,” Olson said.

Long Cove Wool “feels terrific,” said Garner. “I have knitted for years, and it really is a nice wool. It will be interesting to see really what sold and what didn’t,” she said. “I’d like to keep on doing it. Hopefully it will be a case of the wool coming out once a year and then selling out by the end of the year.”

Garner grew up visiting her grandparents’ farm and eating from her grandmother’s garden. “I always wanted to have a farm,” she said, “I like the animals.” Besides the sheep, Garner keeps a garden, two cows, two pigs, pea hens, egg-laying chickens and freezer chicks, as well as turkeys and seven ducks that live by a small pond on the farm.

The sheep came when Garner realized she had open land that either had to be mowed or “someone had to eat it.” The grazing sheep cleared 15-20 acres. “I like seeing them and watching their progress through the day,” Garner said.

Because Garner doesn’t live on Vinalhaven full-time yet (she does plan on moving there eventually) she employs islanders Bob and Alicia Watts to help with the farm. Bob is a jack-of-all-trades. He works the land as well as with the animals, and one of the cows belongs to him. Garner tries to be as hands-on as possible when she is there, but “until I am here full-time there’s not much point if I can’t be dependable. Alicia does a lot. She has done all the research on keeping sheep.” Still, Garner stresses that “we are all learning this, we’re all feeling our way.”

There are no plans for Long Cove Farm to go commercial. “I’m in farming for myself,” said Garner. “I like knowing what I’m eating. If I were doing this for the money I wouldn’t choose Vinalhaven. Living on an island doesn’t make it easy. Everything has to go off for processing.” So far the farm has provided Garner with beef, chicken, turkey, mutton sausage, pork, eggs and vegetables-admittedly too much for one family, so sometimes Garner shares with friends, and she has even bartered for lobsters.

Long Cove Farm adds one more piece to the patchwork quilt that is Vinalhaven. “It’s nice that the island can maintain as many things as it can,” said Garner, “because that is what makes up the community.”