Admire Magazine - July 2017
The Woolshed by Adrienne Matthews
Four generations of the Henderson family have lived and farmed at “Kairuru”, part way up the Takaka Hill on the Riwaka side. Jessica Henderson is the daughter of the current residents, David and Wendy Henderson and despite having followed a career teaching English she has always been drawn back to her roots. “I grew up with sheep”, she laughs. “Farming is in my blood”.
Farther up the hill, The Woolshed is situated at the start of Canaan Road. At seven hundred and forty metres above sea level it is a magical place. The outcrops of folded and weathered marble that spill across the landscape are close to that immortalized along the road in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. It is also in the vicinity of the Cannan Down bike trails and NZ’s deepest vertical shaft, Harwood’s Hole, a magnet to cavers since 1958. Draped with snow at times in winter, dry and sun drenched in summer, it takes a special type of person to farm here.
Four years ago Jessica purchased a sixty hectare block her parents owned in the area. She became a farmer in her own right and the proud owner of a flock of Gotland sheep. “I had always liked the look of the Gotlands”, she says, “but when I got them I liked them even more”. They were first bred on the Swedish island of Gotland by the Vikings, a cross between the local sheep and Russian breeds they brought from their forays deep into Russia. “They are completely suited to hill country conditions”, Jessica explains. “They are agile like a goat so they can manage this landscape which is fifty percent marble”. Gotlands are also known for their beautiful fleeces which are popular for spinning and felting. An inquisitive, easy going breed, Jessica finds them a delight to manage.
“My love of wool comes from my Dad and all the time I spent in the woolshed”, she says. “I gradually learnt what the characteristics of a good fleece are”. Producing excellent wool is her primary goal and Jessica put together a plan that would enable her to do that and sell to customers directly.
The property was blessed with an eighty year old barn, in remarkably good shape considering its exposure to the elements. “The shed was underutilized”, she explains. “I was sure it could be put to good use right from the start”. It was soon transformed into The Woolshed and Jessica’s business was born. Realising that she needed to entice people in off the main road, her first purchase was a coffee machine. Setting up a café that is open Tuesday to Sunday in summer and at weekends in winter has been a great success. Hordes of bikers, trampers, cavers and those driving between Nelson and Golden Bay now have somewhere to stop for a breather in the fresh clean air that feels like it is on top of the world. In the winter the large pot belly fire is lit and steaming cups of coffee and soup welcome visitors.
Remarkably Jessica still does much of the café work herself, rising early to get the baking done before the day starts. It is not a life for the faint hearted but she is determined to make the business work.
Jessica’s love of animals has seen her introduce a family of “furry friends” to the paddocks by the café. Families adore visiting Victoria the llama, kune kune pig Loretta, a pair of emus, goats, Deirdre the white fallow deer and silky bantams. On a fine day they can sit outside being entertained by her animal family while indulging in morning and afternoon tea or lunch.
With partner Tony Salmon helping out with the farm chores, Jessica has been able to keep developing The Woolshed so that there is something for everyone. With the increasing passion in the community for traditional crafts like spinning, knitting and felting, she has seen interest in her wool grow considerably. The carded Gotland wool spilling out of sacks is deliciously soft and, although this is Jessica’s main focus, she is also adding a range of yarns such as the Outlaw Nyx and Queen Bee brands along with many others to satisfy crafters.
There is a purpose built felting space set up where visitors can learn the craft first hand. Demonstrating the pleasures of felting Gotland wool is a key aspect of Jessica’s business and she welcomes groups who want to learn more about its various qualities and attributes. Already very popular are her packs of ready to make felted exfoliant soap. Visitors can make their soap right there or take it home to do later. There are sacks of brightly coloured wools for felting and a range of local crafts including art, pottery sheep, cards, books, handwoven scarves, hats, shawls and many other wool based items.
Jessica is keen to hold events for wool lovers and the Arts Council is running a winter workshop on making slippers at The Woolshed. Felting workshops are also planned.
The Woolshed is a fascinating and cosy place to spend time while enjoying a good cup of coffee and a snack or meal from the menu. It is a fine example of one woman’s determination to realise a dream in a place that is well and truly woven in her heart.