Forty sheep are roaming the vibrant green pasture on Lamb of God Farm in Big Rock, Ill. The animals look skinny and bare without their thick, dirty-white fur coats. Since the shearing season this past spring, their wool is used for many crafty projects at Esther's Place — a sustainable fiber farm, shop and arts studio.
"We don't have a slow down time in the summer. Business is steady year round," said Natasha Lehrer, founder of Esther's Place.
Despite hot and humid Midwest summers, working with wool has never been more intriguing. The atmosphere in the store celebrates sheep in a creative fashion. It offers retreats, classes, summer camps and shows specializing in spinning, knitting, weaving, dyeing and needle felting.
"All fiber is a year round hobby. People on vacation take it with them. Teachers can devote to it in the summertime. It's our chance to get out in the community in the summer," said Lehrer.
Esther's Place is active in the surrounding rural communities and suburbs. It's about an hour drive outside of Chicago, attracting folks on the homestead and city dwellers alike.
Linda Kurtz lives in Wheaton, Ill., a quaint suburb located northwest of Chicago. She discovered the shop from a stranger's recommendation.
"I was knitting at the train station and this person comes up to me and starts talking about Esther's Place. I decided to drive out there and see what it was," she said.
Kurtz and her husband drove out to the farm quickly after, and were pleasantly surprised.
"Natasha and her mother were so gracious and hospitable. They gave us coffee and snacks and we spent the whole afternoon just talking," said Kurtz. "We've been back a few times since then."
The mother-daughter team has worked hard to create a comfortable environment both on the farm and in the studio and shop.
"We're excited to reach into the community. Everyone who we come in contact with is great and has an encouraging lifestyle. We meet with people and inspire them. In return, they inspire you. Whether it's a recipe or project, it keeps you going from day to day," said Lehrer.
They've lived 3,650 days, or ten years, full of positive encouragement on the farm. They transitioned to farming organic produce in 2003 and started a CSA, community supported agriculture, for surrounding communities.
"The CSA not only helps people connect with the farmer, but it deepens the realization of hard work," said Lehrer.
The 20-week season began two weeks ago and continues through the last week of September. For $45, CSA members receive a box full of meat, greens, produce, cheese and fiber products.
"It's a great way to introduce people to products in Illinois," she said.
Kurtz is one of 25 CSA members and has enjoyed the local goods for the past two weeks.
"There's just three people in our family so we split it with another family. It's fun; we get a little bit of the things I wouldn't normally get," said Kurtz.
Lehrer delivers the boxes in different suburbs making it convenient for customers living far from the farm.
"I support local goods because you're not traveling so far to get to the store. People can get a taste of not having to buy things that haven't traveled from South America. It's really important to keep things local," said Kurtz.
In addition to being a CSA member, Kurtz signed her 6-year-old son up for a day-long needle felting class.
"I was surprised that he was so fascinated with it, so I signed him up. It's a five-hour long camp. I'll just find a quiet corner and hang out there for the day," she said.
Lehrer has established a place for Kurtz and others visiting the farm as an escape from the busyness of their everyday lives.
"The farm is a chance to take a step back in time in such a fast-paced world. It's about getting back to your roots and see the stars, see the open land. It's a unique place to visit because it's more of an experience than a shop," said Lehrer.