If anyone could rebrand a cattle ranch a “sheep ranch” through sheer force of will, it would be Jeanne Carver.
The Carvers in 1999 started creating retail products from their raw commodities to survive. A small, lean whirlwind, the 58-year-old Jeanne has been working for a dozen years creating retail products from her sheep — artisan wool and meat (some of their beef is also direct market). She calls it her “sunlight story,” tying together the ranch animals that eat the sun-grown grasses, and that are being converted into food and fiber for people. The value-add is important because long ago the American sheep industry collapsed, and keeping alive the historic Columbia breed is as important to Jeanne as the revenue.
“It comes from our efforts to remain viable as a family ranch,” she said in a recent newsletter that she writes about ranch life, “to preserve the presence and relationship of sheep on the landscape and ... to reach a hand across the rural/urban divide to work together for a richer future.”
Over the years, Jeanne’s fiber business has taken many turns: in 2004 clothing retailer Norm Thompson agreed to sell the garments that Jeanne produced in collaboration with local weavers and knitters. Portland designer Anna Cohen joined forces with Jeanne in 2008, and in 2009 they debuted the Imperial Collection by Anna Cohen at Portland Fashion Week, an apparel line designed by Cohen. They were back at fashion week last fall with a pattern-only collection designed by Cohen, with a final collaborative effort that included Earthtec, which makes fabric from recycled plastic.