The First Annual Lopez Lamb and Wool Festival


The First Annual Lopez Lamb and Wool Festival will fill the Lopez Center for Community and the Arts on Saturday, May 14 with a celebration of Lopez Island agriculture, focusing on sheep and the products they provide.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the area outside the Center will turn into a working sheep farm, with sheep shearing, sheep dogs and displays of various sheep breeds and fleece. Meanwhile, inside the Center, local fiber artists will be turning the sheep’s wool into a hand-woven garment, demonstrating all the stages from sheep to shawl, including carding, spinning, weaving, felting and dyeing. There will also be photos and historical material and handmade items on display and for sale.

The culmination of the day will be a dinner in the Center at 6 p.m., presented by Matt Dillon, chef/owner of Seattle’s Sitka and Spruce. The menu will feature Lopez lamb, produce and shellfish, with a no-host bar of Lopez Vineyards wine.

What a great idea to celebrate the delicious lamb and beautiful fleece produced every year on Lopez—but who took the initiative to make it happen, and why? Early in the planning stages, I talked with Lopez sheep farmer Don Burt and Island Fibers owners Maxine Bronstein and Debbie Hayward and learned that it’s their shared passion for lamb, local food and wool that is bringing us the first of what they hope will be an annual lamb and wool festival.

“Just before Christmas,” Don Burt began, “I was at the Holiday Bazaar, and Maxine and Debbie were there. They said: “‘We’ve been thinking of having a lamb and wool festival,’ and I said, ‘So have I. Let’s do it!’”

Don has been raising sheep for thirty years, beginning on Lopez as a boy, then in Oregon, on San Juan Island and now here again on Lopez. “I like sheep,” he explained, “and I want people to see everything they are about. They’ve got good meat, good fiber and can be used to clear brush and improve pasture. They turn forage into protein and fertilizer. Maybe after the festival more people will want to eat lamb or at least look forward to this event every year and come and have fun.”

For the past year, Don has been selling his lamb to Seattle chef Matt Dillon, owner of Sitka and Spruce and The Corson Building. “Matt’s goal,” Don said, “is to get people to buy local and eat in season. I asked him if he wanted to come up to Lopez and cook, and he said he would love to. He does five or six big fundraisers a year, and he’s going to bring his whole staff here.”

“The dinner was half the impetus for this festival,” Debbie and Maxine continued, “and fleece is the other half.” For the past several years, the two have been buying wool from Lopez sheep farmers and turning it into yarn and hand-knit and hand-woven goods. “There is beautiful fleece available from Lopez sheep,” they said. “It is highly regarded and in great demand from spinners and fiber artists wherever we go to sell our products. So is our hand-dyed Lopez yarn. Even people who don’t spin, knit or weave are fascinated by every stage of the process and want to see how things are made from beginning to end. In our high-speed world, there is a hunger for handmade and local products made slowly and with care.”

The events on May 14 will satisfy these interests, but there are also larger consequences of the festival that motivate the planners. “In addition to promoting Lopez agriculture and helping to make it possible for people to actually make a living farming, we want people to see how satisfying it is to use these great resources we have available in our community,” they said.

“Another of our hopes,” they added, “is that it will enlarge people’s perspective on the role of farming. Farming affects the community in so many ways—improving the soil; caring for the animals; being careful of water quality. It’s a way of life that helps everybody, not just the eaters and the wearers of garments.”

Supporting what they believe in, the festival organizers are donating all proceeds from the event to the Lopez School’s Farm-to-School Program.

The festival planners thank local farmers and advocates for local farming, local food, and local fiber, who are helping to make the event possible: Peggy Bill, coordinator of the Agricultural Resources Committee of San Juan County; Kim Bast of the Lopez Locavores; the Lopez Community Land Trust; Lopez Spinners and Weavers; and the Lopez Center for Community and the Arts.

So come to the Lopez Center for Community and the Arts on Saturday, May 14 for the First Annual Lopez Lamb and Wool Festival. The daytime events are free, but in consideration for the sheep, please leave your dog at home. The dinner tickets have sold out but mark your calendars for next May. For more information, contact: or 360-468-2467.