11/1/03 Update: Ms. Tinder has sold her Fiber business and is no longer offering tours. You may find ideas from this article that encourage you to locate a sheep farm and have your own adventure!

Carolton Farm & Fiber

Barboursville, VA


I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when a fellow homeschooling mom scheduled a field trip to a "sheep farm". She thought some exposure to the "old way" of doing things would benefit the curious kids. Just driving to the location was enough for me. Spring colors exploding all around on a gorgeous day are enough to grab my attention. The Barboursville area is a central part of Virginia’s rural history and a beautiful place to go for a drive. Little did I know what was awaiting us at Carolton Farm and Fiber.

Upon our arrival, Barbara Tinder (owner and operator) greeted our over-sized group with a smile and explained the rules in a way the kids could understand. We then went to see newborn lambs (twins and triplets), a ram, a crippled lamb (from the momma ewe accidentally stepping on her), and many ewes with their lambs - as well as two who were in labor. Off in the fields of this 200 acre, well-maintained farm were herds of sheep that reminded me of Ireland. Mrs. Tinder explained all about sheep, answered our questions, and kept the group moving at an easy pace. She explained how the farm produces its own corn, alfalfa, wheat, barley, oats and hay.

It would be negligent of me not to mention "Emma", her sheep dog. The kids loved watching this dog who has been trained to help on the farm, not compete in shows. First, she would round up the sheep and when Mrs. Tinder gave the command, she would stop. Then, she would round up the farm cat (in a very comical way) - she even tried to round up our group of homeschoolers!

As if the farm tour wasn’t enough, we then had the fiber tour. Her shop is divided into two rooms. In the front is her store, where she sells all kinds of yarn, tools, books, dyes, soaps, lotions, candles, hats, sweaters, raw wool and lots more. In the back room, where our entire group could fit amongst the spinning wheels and looms, she showed us how to make yarn out of raw wool. She explained how she makes her dyes mostly from plants along the Rapidan River (which conveniently runs through her farm). She also read a children’s book that told how to take a sheep, gather the wool, clean it, spin it, weave it, and sew the final product.

Mrs. Tinder also helps to organize the Fall Fiber Festival at Montpelier Station each fall. This is one of the most unique area festivals and is scheduled for October 3rd and 4th. She travels to several other shows along the east coast and offers workshops that include: Beginning Spinning, Felting, and Natural Dyeing. Amazingly, with all she does, she defines her lifestyle as "laid back, easy living".

The cost of our tour was an easy 50 cents per person (suggested donation). Each kid leaves with an informational newsletter and wool sample.

While in Barboursville, there are lots of other things to check out. The Barboursville Winery, home of the Barboursville Ruins, offers a fun wine making tour. The Ruins are always open during the day, usually empty of people, a great place for a picnic, and have neat boxwoods for a game of hide and seek. It is easy to get permission at the winery to play at the Ruins. Barboursville is also home of the Four County Players and their Shakespeare at The Ruins. Also, a lot of fun is the Somerset Steam and Gas Pasture Party which is held each year in late summer. Montpelier (home of James and Dolley Madison) is a fun tour which is free once a year on Constitution Day.

Mary Wilson...
Email: mary@trailz.org

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