SunSpecial: Soft-wear   Leave a comment

Silicon Valley, just east of the San Francisco Bay in north-central California, is a thriving campus of computer engineering, app design, robotics development, forward-thinking energy consulting and just about any other type of hi-tech innovation you can imagine. In the early 2000’s the area produced almost half of all products exported from California; the region is rated as having the second highest concentration of wealth in the US; and in the past 50 years San Jose, one of the largest cities in the area, has grown 500%, making it the largest city in northern California – with a larger population than the more well-known city of San Francisco. And yet San Jose doesn’t even have a song to commemorate its success (‘Do you Know the Way to San Jose‘ just doesn’t feel right, as it seems there are enough people who have already found their way).

But with all this success and growth comes an unexpected, and possibly harmful, effect: There are so many people working double-digit hours per day, living on expensive coffee and free, exclusive lunches at company provided cafes, and then battling packed freeway traffic so they can fall into bed and start the whole experience over tomorrow, the Silicon Valley urbanite, as well as others who live in densely packed environments working through stressful days, is in danger of loosing one of the basic factors that make us human: A connection with the natural, open environment that our ancestors and families experienced, maybe as recently as the lives led by our own mothers and fathers and certainly the more simple lives of our grandparents just two generations ago. When a report deadline or new product launch or full calendar is weighing on every second, it’s hard to see what connection your life might have with an open meadow, or a field of grazing cows, or a tree-filled forest.

Which is why some Siliconians (“Valley Girls’ is so 1980’s!), are looking just a few miles outside of the concrete and the asphalt and the ticking clock, and taking a ‘hands-on’ approach that doesn’t involve shaving a few minutes off their schedule, but instead shaving a few sheep at the University of California Cooperative Extension Sheep Shearing School at the Hopland Research and Extension Center, south of Ukiah, California. And things, you might say, are really hopping at Hopland – more than 250 students have graduated the program and earned their certificate in New Zealand style shearing, where the entire fleece is removed in one piece – something like peeling an orange in one piece – which is said to be more efficient, and more comfortable for the sheep. No one likes an uneven haircut.

Thank you WIKIMedia Commons

This is a lightweight, short and breezy summer-style. We think it’s called the ‘Ewecut’.

California sheep produce over 5 million pounds of wool a year (second only to Texas in the amount of wool!), yet only about 3 percent of that is actually processed and made into yarn within the state, the majority being shipped to China for weaving into clothes and blankets. In a move to create more local jobs and regional production, ranchers with large herds along with individuals owning small flocks are working together to revitalize the California wool industry, which at one time included regional grading and sorting facilities, yarn production, woolen mills, and clothing factories that processed wool from sheep to jacket. While those days might never return, there will always be small manufacturers, artists, and craftspersons who know the value and benefits of local products and a healthy economy. In fact, through the ‘Vines and Ovines project, sheep, after being trained to leave the grapes alone (we think they show them photos of how wine can stain teeth), the herds are given free run of vineyards where they eat weeds and unwanted plants, fertilize the grapes, and grow strong, fleecy coats. Which is not a bad job, if you’re a sheep.

So sheep shearing, a very old and for a time, a disappearing profession, is today, just miles from Silicon Valley, a healthy and growing avocation (which is like a profession, except you do it for fun) for engineers and software developers and inventors who wear lab coats during the week, and shear fleecy coats on the weekend. Of course on that schedule, silicon chips aren’t the only type of chips you have to learn to handle.

Posted August 3, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SunSpecial

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