Rebecca Brouwer is always up before the sun at Shepherds Corner Farm. It’s essential to her creative process.
Rising to meet the day from her farmhouse in Purcellville, Va., Brouwer grabs her flashlight and makes the morning commute—about a minute’s walk across the property—to a cabin where she keeps her fiber studio.
This is where the magic happens, as she draws inspiration from her surroundings.
On clear mornings, she keeps the flashlight off and watches Orion make its seasonal march across the sky or the silhouette of the leafless oak tree against the moonlight. She knows the path well enough to not need a light, but there’s more to take in than darkness.
Shepherd’s Corner Farm uses sustainable practices and Brouwer enjoys its harmony with nature. A quick flashlight scan of the pastures illuminates the eyes of her horses or flock of sheep. Another scan of the yard reveals the deer and bats that also call the farm home.
“It’s dark and it’s quiet. I’ve just got time to think about things,” she reasoned. “A lot of the things I make, I create the process of how it’s done. It might take me 20 minutes to do something when I’ve got it figured out, but in the course of figuring that design out, it may have taken me three days.
“My process, my sheep and my products are an expression of my environment, animals, creativity and my story.”
Brouwer’s story began on a farm in the Midwest, where she found her passion for agriculture. Getting married and raising a family took Brouwer all over the country before finally settling in Western Loudoun.
“I always knew I wanted to have sheep on our farm and after 16 years I found a breed I was interested in raising,” she said. “Once I had my sheep, I needed to find ways to use their wool. That’s what I have been doing for the past few years: learning techniques and sometimes creating ways, to make my products.
“What gets me excited is the process of creating products and figuring out new designs. Along the way, I have found the creative process is not just making things, it’s an internal experience.”
Resiliency and Refocusing During COVID-19
As it did for many people, Brouwer’s internal experience changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, even in her somewhat insulated farm environment. Social distance kept her away from her children and grandchildren, as well as her valued customers.
“After two successful years, we were planning to ramp up our business activity and sales in 2020,” Brouwer said. “ That became impossible due to the business lockdowns and risk of infection.”
To help offset some of the losses, Shepherds Corner Farm was awarded a Business Interruption Fund grant from Loudoun County, paid for with CARES Act funding.
The silver lining for Brouwer was time to process her thoughts and focus.
“The way it affected me is that it allowed me time. I’m not, y’know, a sweatshop. I’m creating things because they have meaning to me,” she said with a chuckle. “It’s my creative process, both internally and externally. As I’m making my products, I want them to reflect that process.
“My sheep grow the wool. The wool is beautiful, and it served that sheep well. I want to use it to make something that reflects their beauty. I also want it to be something that hits people the same way it hits me. I need to take my materials and create a piece of value.”
Value starts with the flock. Wool quality is determined by a range of factors, especially the life and diet of the individual sheep. As her flock ages, the wool changes with it, and her products change accordingly.
“I’m thinking about my supply chain. The wool that I have from lambs is something that I’ll be using for my scarves because it’s soft,” she said. “But I’m not having lambs anymore. As the sheep grow, they have different kinds of wool. As my supply of lamb’s wool dwindles, I’ll be making more outerwear products, and home decor products that I can felt.”
Brouwer shears her sheep twice per year and can harvest upwards of 90 lbs. of wool at a time. She works with mills all over the country to get that wool cleaned and processed to the highest level, so she can focus on what it becomes.
“I’ve come to the realization that creativity is as important as an individual’s fingerprint,” she said. “Each person is uniquely creative and it’s important to recognize that in yourself. And it’s important to recognize and encourage others’ creative talents, especially children who will learn to be proud of who they are by their unique expression of creativity.”
Shepherds Corner Farm on the Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace
Driving around Purcellville and Western Loudoun during the pandemic, Brouwer was inspired by the positivity of her community, expressed through yard, church and community signs.
That inspiration turned into a new product, perfect for the holiday gift season: Hand and Heart Warmers. These woolen hand warmers are artfully designed in a wide range of colors and patterns, and combined with lavender grown on her farm, for a relaxing hand warmer that can be re-used for years.
“The words of encouragement on every Hand and Heart Warmer are reflections of the words of encouragement I saw while driving around town,” she recalled. “A creative piece like this is about picking up on what’s going on in the world around you. What is touching to people? I really feel like this product helps capture the reality we’ve been living in for the last few years, It’s a little diversion from my other wool products but it is a good use of my lavender and a way to offer a product that is a heartwarming and encouraging gift.
Brouwer is a proud participant in Loudoun Economic Development’s Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace, an online shopping experience that helps connect local farmers and artisans with local consumers.
Heading into the holiday season and the annual Take Loudoun Home for the Holidays campaign, Shepherds Corner Farm provides a wide array of gifts, including embroidered kitchen towels and custom fashion accessories, such as a handwoven Gotland Shawl.
Time and creativity are central to every piece that Brouwer makes, as she pours meaning into each accessory.
“My greatest inspiration and satisfaction is seeing how my story and my work connect people to my life and my environment,” she said. “I truly believe creativity is essential to the human experience. Our culture depends on it, and we all need to nurture creativity in ourselves as well as in others.
“Everyone has their own way of expressing who they are, as I do through my work. Best of all, creativity makes you happy and is a gift that can be shared with others!”
Support local farms and artisans this holiday season and click here to shop Rebecca’s store on the Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace.