I came to see machinery but before I was there five minutes I met a goddess. I think Argyle is that kind of place. You’ve gotta love these creative, entrepreneurial types.
The term “Fifty-mile Fiber” brought me here to check out the Argyle Fiber Mill, one of those great little destinations well off the thoroughfare. Salt-of-the-Earth kind of people. They raise animals – alpaca, Icelandic sheep and llamas – in addition to cattle, pork and fowl of all kinds. The Mill purchases fiber locally – thus the Fifty Mile goal – and provides retail services, consignment opportunities and a great place for aficionados to gather.
You can buy great yarns, including 100% Icelandic, 100% alpaca, blends using both or even the “houseblend”, which can include Icelandic, alpaca, llama, mohair, merino and whatever else they have small amounts of leftover.
The Mill does custom processing, mostly for breeders with small flocks. They process fiber based on the specific needs of each customer and produce clouds, roving, batts and yarn. When you deal with the Argyle Fiber Mill, you’re assured that you will get your own wool back. “No minimum, no blending, your animal,” states a succinct Kristi.
They support and supply local fiber producers and artisans, although they have customers from throughout the Midwest and all around the country. I kept thinking of how many neat knitted creations I’ve seen in shops recently that might have had some connection to this place. Kristi says, “There isn’t a soul who doesn’t appreciate a hand knit item from someone they know and love.”
I did get to see some neat equipment, by the way. The Mill is a full-service operation located in an old hardware store. The production action is in the rear of the building, and the techno-nerd in me loved the spinning machine, although there were quite a few other pieces of equipment there to wash and prepare fiber. Nothing is wasted, and the day I visited they had some lesser quality fiber ready for making rugs.
The Mill sponsors a number of classes from time to time, but Wednesday nights have become a special time for gathering. Argylia, Goddess of Knitting, Wine and Laughter, presides over a comfy spot in the lower level where people gather every Wednesday evening to knit, spin and chat. They are the Argylian Society of Knitters. Folks come quite a distance and represent a wide variety of ages, viewpoints, communities and expertise. Most have animals. The group makes items to donate, and has helped organizations like the Special Olympics, the Veterans Hospital and members of the armed forces. Who would have thought about the need for a nice, knit helmet liner!
I asked Kristi pointedly if it was true that Wednesday nights are when women gather to complain about their husbands and she said, “yup”. Hmmmmm. But she hit on the success of the group when she said, “Knitting remains a relaxing, soothing, comforting constant – and at the end of the day, you have something!”
The Argyle Fiber Mill represents more than just entrepreneurship; it is a place with a heart and a purpose beyond a job. The people who run the place realize they are part of something bigger, certainly in the geographical sense and something larger attitudinally as well. A community of spirit: People who support each other’s creativity.
And by the way, behind the door with the “Art Inside” sign is a great little studio where Pam works and plans community art classes. So the Fiber Mill can probably also claim it is a business incubator, because I know that in that room they’re hatching some great ideas for community art projects.
Argyle is a postcard picturesque little community of about 800, on the Pecatonica River in Lafayette County. It has its own hydroelectric plant on the river (how cool is that?), and was for a time the home to Wisconsin’s own Fighting Bob Lafollette. Its community school survives and thrives – every kid in the district in one building that shares the playground with the village park next door. The Pecatonica River winds through town and its wetlands grace the perimeter. And you’ve got to see the turtle – designed and built by the students, local artists and artisans and scads of community members. It took years but most everyone got involved in one way or another.
Entrepreneurial communities are those places that create an environment that attracts, retains and supports talent. I’ve seen some neat, thriving places in my time and Argyle is definitely an entrepreneurial community. It is an industrious place with great history – something fairly common in agriculture country – but also welcomes new folks and new ideas and, frankly, the mixture makes the Village glow.
By the way, if you’re into community development, don’t miss the 2011 regional conference, Building Economic Strength Together (BEST), held this year in Argyle on May 24. There will be two business tours: the Fiber Mill and another excellent local business – the Thunder Bridge Trading Company. Click here for more information.
Give Argyle a visit sometime soon. It’s near Monroe, Darlington and Blanchardville and other neat places in southwest Wisconsin. Together, they’re great day trip material. You’ll find scores of shops and hundreds of creative, innovative people.
And you can also connect with the Fiber Mill folks through their Facebook page.
Do you know of an entrepreneurial community, either an urban neighborhood or a rural place? Let us know about it.
Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale, WI