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Natural Living Trends: Asleep in Sheep's Clothing.

SciTech21-7 February 2008-Natural Living Trends: Asleep in Sheep's Clothing(C)2008 JeraOne -

Marin County, Calif. -- Thanks to fourth-generation Marin County rancher Joe Pozzi, you don't have to count sheep to get a good night's rest. You can slumber warm and cozy in and on their wool.

Pozzi is a pioneer supplier in a growing niche market for natural products -- the bedding industry. What its emergence means to Pozzi and other sheep ranchers in Marin and Sonoma counties is a very welcome second wind: another market for their animals and another way to ensure that ranching survives.

"It's been tough," says Pozzi of sheep ranching, supported in Marin on about 15,000 acres of scenic coastal grassland. "It used to cost more to shear the sheep than sell the wool."

Now Pozzi sees a "win-win" future. The animals are providing a product that maintains agricultural land while also offering what's needed to make it happen: "providing ranching with a way to be more economically viable."

In Bed with Wool

Walking toward a small flock on one of his properties near the border of Marin and Sonoma, a BlackBerry in his pocket and Sam the border collie fast at his side, Pozzi admits he never thought his wool would end up in bedding. But that's opportunity for you, he says. "I believe you have to be ready when it comes," and in this case it arrived at an agricultural event in the late '80s. A woman asked him what he did with his wool. At the time, Pozzi, like most of his colleagues, raised lamb for market.

Pozzi responded by sending a load of his wool to be washed at the Pendleton mill, then shipping it to his curious acquaintance. Wool is measured by weight. Light wool finds its way into clothing. Pozzi's wool is a medium-weight fiber, in texture thick and crimped, which gives it a buoyant quality - and that was just what was needed for her line of natural bedding products. It was Pozzi's first foray into the industry. Today, numerous companies use his wool in blankets, comforters, pillows, and infant "puddle pads." It's also used as fill in adult and crib mattresses and mattress toppers.

Pozzi began his wool sourcing through the Pure Grow Wool program and now provides it through his own Pozzi Wool Program. He gets the raw product from his animals and those raised by about 60 ranchers in Marin, Sonoma, and also Oregon. The wool is then sold to the Pure Grow Wool program and other customers, including Vivetique, whose wool bedding is carried at Green Fusion Design Center in San Anselmo, Calif.

Gaining Fans

Sophia Balestreri, co-owner of Green Fusion, says Pozzi is playing an important role in the market for wool. "Demand is definitely growing," she says. "Wool is the kind of material people like to nest with."

Among wool's attributes (at least for consumers who aren't allergic to the fiber) is its ability to gauge and respond to human temperature. Called the most breathable fiber on earth, wool warms without overheating, and it absorbs water more efficiently than down - a bonus when it comes to stuffing mattresses: Wool doesn't stay damp, the favored environment for dust mites.

Wool is also a natural fire retardant and automatically meets national standards, which means no additional chemicals are needed to ensure that products are inflammable.

Wool Moments

Pozzi's operation is not organic, though he says that many of his pastures are in the process of being certified. He's also quick to add, "95 percent of what the sheep consume in their diet is the natural grasses growing on the open range of Sonoma and Marin counties." Pozzi does ask that animal feed used by his wool suppliers be free of hormones or any synthetics. If they fertilize their fields or use pesticides, animals are to be kept out of the area for three to five days after application.

Winner of this year's Agriculturalist of the Year award from the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, Pozzi grazes five or six sheep per acre on his land; he says more would strain the natural grass yield - rye and clover.

His sheep are traditional English breeds, including Dorset and Suffolk. His flock and his fields drink from natural spring water fed by the Salmon Creek watershed.

"I try to keep it all as simple and efficient as possible," Pozzi says of his operation. "It's a good life, challenging in its own way, but what isn't?"

Article first appeared in TerraMarin magazine,

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Date:Feb 7, 2008
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