Judy Kirk remembers going to the Fleece Tent at the Common Ground Country Fair for the first time six years ago. “It’s pretty exciting when you walk into a tent with 500 fleeces. I was like a child in a candy store.” A fleece producer and spinner herself, she started getting “more and more involved,” visiting the tent every day of the Fair and participating in the shows. So three years ago, when the area’s coordinator was ready for a change, Judy took over. Now she shares the job with a co-coordinator, Jeanne Young. Judy and her computer do the summer work while Jeanne “irritates me really well (urging her on), and then, “come September, we both just work ourselves to death for three days.”
The fleece tent brings buyers and sellers of fleeces together. About 500 fleeces – unprocessed, “right off the animal” – are sold during the Fair. MOFGA gets 10% of the selling price. Most of the wool is from sheep, but llama, alpaca and mohair are also represented. The tent’s “great reputation and great diversity” draw people from all over New England, according to Judy. Her goal is to “help people understand fleece more,” and she sees education – shows, workshops, presentations – playing a larger role in the tent’s future. She also hopes to get more kids involved, with hands-on activities such as spinning and carding.
“Fiber I love,” says Judy, “but I love the animals most.” She has a small flock of Romneys on her two acres of land in Orono. “My sheep are my pets.” Three angora rabbits, down from a total of 20 a few years ago, live in an outbuilding, or, when it’s cold, her pantry. She also shares her home with her retail yarn shop, “Damsel Fly,” which she opened in 1981. The shop has been only a part-time avocation for the past five years, when she went back to school. She now has a degree in aquaculture and, while she may not be farming off the coast, the degree “gave me a lot of knowledge.” Now finished with school, she started working full-time at “The Store,” a natural foods store in Orono, last September.
She also gardens. “I’m a big gardener,” she says. Although she is the only human eating regularly at her house – her two children are grown and her husband died five years ago – she still grows at least 32 tomato plants because she “can’t resist” all the new and heirloom varieties. “It’s nuts, but I can’t help it.” She has an herb garden, raised beds for vegetables, raspberries, grapes and “lots of flowers.” Her children have inherited her zeal. Her daughter managed a nursery when she lived in New Mexico, then worked for Smith & Hawken in San Francisco. She now owns a plant and garden store in Orono. When she moved back, before her brother’s wedding last August, she and her mother “tore up the garden. We totally redid everything for the wedding.” The new lawns and plantings were a success. And while Judy has been growing hot peppers for her son for the past few years, she is sure that he and his wife “are going to have a great garden this year.” Besides, “I’m counting on him to get some this manure.”
With “fingers in so many pies,” Judy says of her life, “obviously I’ve got to cut back somewhere.” But of the big garden she says, “It’s hard to give up something like that.” And when asked if she plans to keep working with MOFGA, she just states, “Yep. I sure do.” She’s excited about the new site and the possibilities for a continuing agricultural program there. She volunteers at a living history museum, Leonard’s Mills, and says, “that’s fine, that’s history. But this [the new site] is today, this is not a historical museum, this is life. People will be able to see they can do it, too.”
– Ann Cox Halkett