Monday, 26 September 2016

The Timeless Elegance and Relevance of the Scottish Highlands

“My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go.” 

The Brattleboro Bear meets Buchaille Etive Mor...

This past August we traveled back to Scotland – sometime home of Pamela and Naia for the timeless inspiration of Edinburgh, and the subtle elegance of the Highlands awash in heather blossoms.  From the braies of the Killiecrankie on Blair Atholl, to the immovable Buchaille Etive Mor (The Shepard of Etive) beside Glencoe and Rannoch Moor.  It was a sweet treat in visiting our Falkland where Naia had her first year and sometimes known as “Inverness” in the TV Series Outlander.   East Lomond, an old volcanic plug that oversees the village has been a beacon hill for the Picts, Celts, Romans, and Scots, sending fire signals from The North Sea (think Viking invasions which left words like “brau and bairn in the local dialect) inland to Stirling, the first place where a medival arch could span the Forth River and allow foot traffic into the Highlands.  If you’re ever in the Hague and see the stone houses on it’s shores, those were made of ballast in trade ships sold to wealthy merchants as their land was little more than a spit of sand.

Fetching the whiskey...
Scots stick to their wool.  Truly a magnificent, and timeless fabric.  In particular the tartan dyed with plants are of interest to our future color spectrum.  And much like our American recessions – the Scots have had to claw their way back from failed rebellions, the Clearances, and more recently Maggie Thatcher’s shutdown of the coal industry in the 80’s.  They are doers born and bred, bringing dignity and honor to even the most simple of crafts, with an eye to enduring the centuries as a standard measurement.   A brilliant realization being why Linens are traditional in the UK, of course they could not grow cotton in such weather and so grew flax! 

Glencoe, nursery of the glaciers and home to species that turn white in winter.

Their largest predator is a fox, of which there are many – thankfully farmers seem to be learning how to build good fences and hunts no longer set hounds on the foxes.  Deer are abundant with the lack of large predators, and there is a vicious condemnation of the grey squirrel, which was imported to London over a century ago and has spread being the versatile omnivore it is!  Sadly at the same time the lovely Red Squirrel has become endangered as it’s pine trees are cut down for developments.  The greys number in the millions and are being trapped and subjected to the ravenous Pine Marten (think Fisher) despite it being clear they will never be eradicated.  Scotland has even reintroduced beaver after their local demise several hundred years ago with unfettered trapping. Brava!   

Blair Atholl for the International Horse Trials

Happy Fall!!!! 

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Partnering with Pergamena - Eco friendly Tanning in The Hudson Valley

Most of the successful people I've known are the ones who do more 
listening than talking..." --Bernard Baruch

Watching the hides being worked
As we toured Pergamena Tannery this past week, business of the Meyer Family since 1550...listening was most definitely par for the course.  PMF has sent 60 lamb pelts who all passed unexpectedly during lambing season from our Farmer's Cooperative to these specialists in vegetable tanning.  Stephen and Jesse were gracious hosts and spent the greater part of the morning helping us understand first hand just how their process works.  As with all alchemy, this work is not for the weak minded or faint of heart.  True art and transformation requires dedication, process, rigour, and vision.  The Meyer's provide superior vegetable tanned leather to world designers at a scale we aspire to... it's awesome.   

Pergamena's buttery parchment was too enticing for my wee beast...

Unwillingness to compromise (both mine and theirs) drove me to find Pergamena.  In the days where you can buy almost anything (including fur) for under $10 - my goal is not to produce, but to produce well.  To produce not just a superior produce ethically, but which also
Not just to pay people, but to pay them so they can thrive as employees.
To spend my money and my client's forever raising the bar that little bit higher.  What else is worthy of energy if not perfection?
Why try for second place?  PMF has about 500 years of catching up to do with the Meyer family's business, and it gave me deep pleasure and a sense of surety to see that this 500 year old business is focusing on sustainable high end production of a timeless product. 

We will gratefully send our leather to receive their treatments, listen and learn about running a business that lives for centuries, and look forward to launching our first accidental and sustainable leather products for this holiday season. 

Some of my favorite colors from their vegetables like chestnuts

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Divinity in the Swamp

Swamps are often depicted as wild, dangerous, unnavigable places.  Many times they are some of each of those things.  

They are most certainly magical.  


Our Apache Model Sparrowhawk 

Swamps hold water - they purify it.  Swamps decay organic matter and turn it into rich soil for new life.  Swamps are sanctuaries for many species not otherwise seen and certainly in this time, remain strongholds of wilderness amongst suburban sprawl.  

Swamps require us to let go of thoughtless motion and existence if we want to enter them.  We must be prepared for walking, swimming, and the precarious sprawled belly walk on the floating peat. What looks like ground is water, and what looks like water is ground. Nothing can be taken for granted.

I've been drawn to these places while founding PMF.  They are both critical to ecosystems health and also totally under appreciated. They complete the circle of life and take what was old to make it new again - much as I attempt to do.   A wet, dark place where life is born anew and kept safe from the quick changes of forests and plains at the hands of unending growth of western capitalism. At times we bulldoze soil into them, or brazenly force roads through them.  Inevitably those developments flood - rot, and in the case of the swamp by our house and former dairy farm - require endless trapping of beaver.

This past year our town stopped trapping.  The beaver flooded the swamp road.  My Grandpere fumed at the beaver (he's a righteous piece of Quebecois grizzle and still has a six pack at 85) for killing the cedar that had grown in the swamp during the century after they had been trapped out of Massachusetts. They were good fence posts for the dairy farm says he!   But it was not closed out of a love for beaver, but rather the 15 foot drop on either side of the road that cars can disappear into which closed the road.  Liability's a bitch.

Regardless - this hot, steamy, dark, wild place played host to our photo shoot this weekend after a flash storm.  Our team was incredible and in particular the models who braved unsteady ground for some epic shots.   Many thanks to our brilliant team, Connecticut Renaissance Faire for our costume pieces,  and a deep bow to the Swamp.  We will be sure to keep you posted about both the final images and the exhibition!


Beautiful Alexandra pausing for the emerging sun 


Photographer: Morten Smidt NYC
MUA: Irene Kim

Monday, 1 August 2016

"We do not look to be ruled"


Politics aside that is a certainty about every American. 

These included --- 

I would argue for every nationality, and species. 

Every business must ultimately decide if they are willing to rule over others and subjugate them. 
You must decide this every time you consume - food, energy, clothing, and even your 
steps on the earth. 

None of these species asks for mercy - they are apex - and that does not mean subjugating others - it means being badass enough to be able to take them even if they are free.  And to be taken yourself at the end without shame or fear or regret. To contribute in life, and in death. 

There is much to learn from each of them about how to rule and be a game changer without destroying everything around you. Specifically to do that without enslaving those which feed you. 
Just as we used to enslave each other, and have since grown beyond that - so too this can happen with other species.  Women work no less hard today now that they have the vote - every individual whose people have achieved civil rights is no less focused on a task at hand - the critical difference is that they choose to do it - the action fulfills their nature. 

North America is a massive continent with upwards of 365 million animals dying on it's roads every year - these are mostly healthy populations of wildlife.   Until we have tapped out that resource of animals living and dying according to their own free will there are no excuses.  We don't do things because they are easier - we do them because they are right.  We have an opportunity to align our business practice with the universal American value of FREE WILL. 

With Veterans Day behind us - and Labor Day ahead - 
let's stay focused on who we are and how we chose. 

Thursday, 7 July 2016


My first blogpost as the accidental furrier. 

What matters most to me is the only relevant question. 

With regard to fur, humans, and everything else that
lives - it is always free will. 


Free - as in without external limitations 
Will - what comes naturally to someone 

Important to Americans (this one included) because it is the promise our ancestors sought in leaving their homes for the unknown at best - to come and determine our own fate.  Important to us even today after our ancestors endured centuries of oppression based on everything from class, to religion, to family ties and appearance.  It goes to the heart of our Declaration of Independence from 1776.  We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. 

You may bend toward Madison - “Where a majority are united by a common sentiment, and have an opportunity, the rights of the minor party become insecure.   Or feel that Hamilton understood the basic arc of decision making and muddling along to preserve the whole "If mankind were to resolve to agree in no institution of government, until every part of it had been adjusted to the most exact standard of perfection, society would soon become a general scene of anarchy, and the world a desert".  You may extend those rights and considerations to your own "race" or all - you may extend those rights to your own "religion" or all - you may extend those rights to your own "species" or all. 
Your willingness to listen and provide space to speak will change drastically according to whom you prescribe as worthy to be considered. And thus you will limit or expand accordingly your own personal capacity to take in data from the system and make decisions based on what is universally helpful, or specifically helpful.  And as Jared Diamond so usefully points out in his books Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse it is clear that even societies that seem to thrive short term will collapse if they do not consider the context and input from the ecosystem in which they live. 

However, regardless of whether you are a fan of Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza or Bohr - I would bet money you prefer not to live in a cage and let others decide when you will die. This is exactly why we consider long term solitary confinement torture for humans, and the same extends for other mammals. It's why we put toys in hamster and bird cages.  It's why if our domesticated cats and dogs are kept in crates permanently, the owners are arrested and the animals confiscated.  My personal journey was as a ferret owner living in the mink capital of Europe (Copenhagen Denmark). 

My 10 year old ferret fifi giving kisses on her last day while I was 4 months pregnant.  Miss my ankle biter! 

Below is a series of videos to highlight the context of weasels (Mink - Ferret - Stoat) and provide consideration on how we as humans effect the ability for them to live according to their own free will.  Full disclosure - I fully support animals right to eat one another and do not try to make carnivores/omnivores herbivores.  Mange

Farm Raised Mink as described by the Fur Industry itself

The insanity of "domesticated" cage is big enough! 
(watch them chase the car at the end to fully appreciate a weasel)

Ranch raise Mink allowed to hunt 

Wild Weasel Stoat play leads to effective hunt of 
Rabbit 10x it's size 

So the question then is how and why and when is this condition appropriate or useful for either humans or other species?  

What we hold to be good for ourselves does not necessarily apply to "the other". And how is this all related to an accessory?!

There will undoubtedly be times the majority would agree it's time to take out a "sick dog" - someone hurting your child, a rabid dog, and these sort of extreme situations.   I am a part of that majority. While I spent an hour placing a baby robin back in the nest this morning, I also chased a German Shepard with a bat intending to use it when it grabbed one of my beloved hens.  But as a farmer it was ultimately my fault the hens were free range and thus available for dinner.  Now they have electric fencing to keep them safer than before the Shepard.  As to the baby Robin, he's my neighbor and I appreciate his eating garden pests and see his health effects mine.  Self interest?  A mother's instinct?  Both likely - and that's ok. Valuing other life is a complex and ever changing consideration.  

94% of the population avoids animals in the roads - 6% aim for them. Here's a link to one study done.

Like most I prefer to tread lightly and create life rather than take it. However as a living being my existence requires taking other life. Be it flora or fauna.  For years I struggled with this - and once I realized plants communicate I understood becoming vegan/vegetarian was not more peaceful than being an omnivore. It was all about balance and efficiency.  

to extend that individual sense of self to other species - while understanding the circle of life as nature's answer through a few billion years of R&D here on earth helped clarify a balanced way forward. As a farmer I dove into how to tend livestock well and give them life affirming conditions (unlike monoculture and factory farming) and a humane death (unlike what happens in the wild).  I actually believe most farmers strive for this - even if sometimes the system or an individual falls short.  People are trying - even the fur farmers are trying.  But just as vegans say eating plant life is acceptable, fur farmers are saying clean cages and a quick death is acceptable.  The law moves with our current moral status and is neither the truth or static.  So what can one accidental furrier do about a $40 Billion Dollar a year industry?  

I'm certainly not the woman to submit to other's definition of working conditions ;-)  so here's where I have gotten thus far. 

If indeed the Humane Society is correct - about 365 Million animals  are killed every year on American roads.  The more efficiently we can harness those accidental deaths, the less we need the intentional ones. We become a "decomposer" or "scavenger" rather than simply (and vulnerably) an apex predator. Just as rats pigeons and cockroaches have learned - being flexible ensures resilience.  We may call them vermin - but that is only because they are more successful than we are today.  The goal of PMF goes beyond simple financial profitability and includes giving back to "the others" their free will. They can live and die as they please. Just as we would like to do. Vegan leather is plastic - and we all know what that does to wildlife and the earth when thrown away - this is not a sustainable option.  With Limits to Growth, we cannot afford to habitually re-enforce the throw away culture.  40 years ago %80 of our clothes were made in the USA - today it's reversed to %20 - we are exporting not only the work and jobs of the garment industry, the control of living wages and secure working conditions, but also the profitability --- we are doing this for clothing that we throw away seasonally based on a culture created by those who profit from it...Let's take a step back.


Wildlife just like humans are subject to context and in that sense there is more to do for both humanity and our furry neighbors to build healthy contexts in which both can thrive collectively.  Many people are working on this. Many animals are working on this - from trees to Beavers and even the emerging Coywolves of the East - let's remember that! 

Accidental Fur is one step - among many like recycled plastic shoes, organic cotton jeans, fair trade everything, transparent products tracing their production line and resource use, Bcorps, and so on - we all have a choice - contribute, or get out of the way. 

We need to embrace the grey regions of morality - this is the gap - this is the place of tension and change - this is where opportunity for mutual profitability exists. It's uncomfortable, it changes shade depending on the current wave of sentiment, but in being neither black nor white, it allows both to continue to exist. And if that is not the case - we have nothing but genocide/ecocide/suicide left to apply as an answer.  The minute we allow "the other" to be wrong and bad - we allow ourselves to justify violence. This is why activists on either side do themselves no favors by trading insults. 

Accidental fur is real fur, a part of nature - that supports free will of all species.  

The Fur Industry has come a long way, and often with the help of non profit groups that advocate for animal welfare.   And - there is more work to do.   

As my friends at Team Academy say - Change, or Die. You can be sure I have more to say - this is BLOG1 --- and no doubt as we all interact my opinions and awareness will also change. 

Let's get to work.